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Lone Sentry: Unit History: 88th Infantry Division


[We Were There: From Gruber to the Brenner Pass]


There was rest at Albano -- individual and unit honors -- and passes to Rome for the doughboys who had obtained only a brief glimpse of the capital they had helped to liberate after a lightning stab through the mountains, taken for the first time in all history by an attack from the south.

And taken with relatively light casualties, according to a G-1 report which listed 134 officers and 1,844 enlisted men as killed, wounded or missing in action. The report indicated that German losses had been much heavier, based on the PW total which credited the 88th with bagging 30 officers and 1,942 enlisted men, members of more than six German divisions which had failed to stop the 88th's drive.

Temporarily abandoning their tasks as MP's, members of the band after two brief days of rehearsal swung back into action with music for dances, parades, concerts and other ceremonies. The Red Cross Tent Club, favorite of the Division since it first set up at Casanova in early May, rejoined the 88th and before month's end had served more than 42,000 men across the snack bar.

When the Division was alerted on the 23rd and moved to Tarquinia, some 60 miles north of Rome, to keep pace with the Fifth Army sweeping on far to the north, the Tent Club stayed with its adopted "Blue Devils," made the jump with the help of the 313th Engineers and was back in operation with the loss of only half a day.

While the press in the United States still sang its praises, the 88th collected additional honors -- a Distinguished Service Medal to Maj. Gen. Sloan from General George C. Marshall during a tour of the battle areas, and 114 awards, decorations and commendations presented by Maj. Gen. Sloan to members of his command at a Division ceremony on 28 June, the first since the opening of the offensive.

Turning the month into July, training and reorganization programs were stepped up as the old, reliable rumors began making the rounds and the Division cleared for more action. On the 5th and 6th, the 349th and 350th Combat Teams moved up to the front, the 351st remaining.

Next day, Sec. of War Henry L. Stimson and Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark made formal inspection of the 351st as it stood at attention on the Tarquinia airfield -- Mr. Stimson praised the doughboys for what they had done in their first days of combat and told them "The thrill of victory is in the air."

[Sec. of War Henry L. Stimson, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark and  Maj. Gen. John S. Sloan inspect the 351st at Tarquinia]
Sec. of War Henry L. Stimson, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark and
Maj. Gen. John S. Sloan inspect the 351st at Tarquinia.

Relieving the 1st Armored Division, and attached now to IV Corps, the 88th prepared for its drive to the Arno River. Volterra, stronghold of the ancient Etruscans and a German prize, was the first main objective. Assigned to take it were the 349th and 350th, with the 351st held in reserve. Plans called for the 349th to flank the mountain city on the east, the 350th on the west, with both outfits scheduled to cut in behind the city and seize high ground to the north.

With division artillery pounding zone targets and the 337th dropping smoke west and southeast of Volterra, the regiments jumped off at 0500 hours on the 8th over gently rolling terrain with poor cover. Enemy machine guns and 20-mm ack-ack guns, fired at point-blank range, gave the 349th a bitter day-long battle before the "Krautkillers" took the approach town of Roncolla. By 2200 hours both regiments had reached their objectives and the 349th sent patrols to block entrances to Volterra, once the site of Kraut OP's which commanded a 15-mile view.

[349th enters Volterra]
349th enters Volterra

Hitting for Laiatico, the 351st encountered stubborn opposition -- checked several strong German counterattacks, and by dawn of the 11th found its 1st Battalion pinned down in the open on the west slopes of the Laiatico hill mass, under direct observation and heavy enemy artillery fire. On the 12th, all battalions reorganized and prepared to follow new attack orders. Brig. Gen. Kendall arrived at the 351st CP about 2100 hours with orders for the 2nd Battalion to attack from the west, 3rd from the east with the 1st to be held as potential relief.

The attack was launched on time -- the 3rd drove forward in column of companies under command of Capt. Harold B. Ayers of New Orleans, La., executive officer who had taken over when the battalion commander was wounded and evacuated. Following about 100 yards behind its support artillery, the 3rd knifed into the enemy defensive positions along the ridge running east from Laiatico, penetrating as far as the CP of the 1st Battalion, 1060th Grenadier Regiment. Killing the German CO by grenades tossed into his headquarters, the men of the 3rd rounded up more than 420 live Jerries and killed over 250 before they resumed their advance up the ridge.

In the meantime, the 2nd Battalion had taken Hills 212 and 166 and reached the northern part of town by daylight. With break of day, both units were caught in fierce artillery barrages-despite them, the 2nd continued to push on about 800 yards beyond Laiatico when orders came to dig in. At 2400 hours the attack was resumed and both the 2nd and 3rd took the ridge running north and south from Laiatico by 0300 hours on the 13th.

For its outstanding performance at Laiatico, the 3rd Battalion later received a War Department Distinguished Unit Citation, the first unit in the Division to win such an award.

Attempting to exploit its capture of Laiatico, the 351st was checked by stiff opposition -- the 350th stood off a tank and infantry attack as the 339th Field destroyed four enemy gun batteries during the encounter. On the 13th, the 349th and 350th, abreast, were able to move forward to limited objectives meeting only scattered resistance -- later in the day their progress was slowed.

And a new name was born in the 349th as a symbol for a hell on earth -- the name of "Bloody Ridge."

Taking Hill 186 late on the 13th with relative ease, the 2nd Battalion moved toward one of its bloodiest and most decisive fights of the campaign. Although the Kraut had not met the attack on Hill 186 with any sizable resistance, he was well prepared to stand off a strong assault on Hills 184 and 188, near Villamagna. The approaches to the objectives were heavily mined and the enemy gained precious time because of this.

[Map: To the Arno]
To the Arno, July 5 to July 31

Under direct enemy observation all the way, Company "E" led the pre- dawn attack on the left knob and took it after withstanding murderous machine gun fire. Company "G" also felt the full fury of the Kraut main line as it assaulted the right knob, but by dawn had worked its way to the top aided by heavy fire from Company "H" machine guns. On the crest, "G", riddled by casualties, still had enough left to throw back a strong Kraut attack. The battle was won. Company "F" moved up with "G" and the hill was secured against further attacks.

That was "Bloody Ridge" -- it's a name, and a place, that never will be forgotten by the regiment.

Scouting the area about Villamagna, the 3rd Platoon of the Recon Troop took the town itself at 1222 hours on the 13th-later an Army G-3 report credited the 3rd with capture of Villamagna, adding that it was "taken by the same unit which was first in Rome." At 0030 hours on the 14th, the 3rd Battalion, 349th, occupied and secured Villamagna as directed by the Division.

Belvedere and adjacent high ground fell to the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 351st, and all units continued their advance, with the 351st moving through Monte Foscoli early on the 16th. The advance picked up speed during the morning with indications pointing to an enemy withdrawal during the night. The back of the Kraut resistance in the sector apparently had been broken and all units were directed to push forward swiftly to maintain contact.

By morning of the 17th the situation maps disclosed that the 351st had captured Partino and was continuing north, the 349th was driving for Palaia and the 350th had taken the high ground in the vicinity of La Fornace and maintained its northward thrust. Shortly after daybreak however, the enemy began fighting back with renewed strength, increasing his use of tanks and covering the entire front with mortar and artillery concentrations.

Division plans to drive on to the Arno were changed and the units were directed to seize commanding terrain in their particular zones and maintain aggressive patrolling to the river. At 1900 hours, the 349th took Palaia and the heights to the north.

During the battle for the heights, 1st Lt. Kenneth W. Gray of Fayetteville, W. Va., personally knocked out an ambushing Kraut machine gun, then led his company as advance scout, reorganizing the unit twice under deadly fire to beat off savage counterattacks before he fell wounded -- an exploit for which he was awarded a DSC.

At 0100 hours on the 18th, the 1st Battalion, 351st, attached to Task Force Ramey, captured Montaione. Enemy opposition diminished during the night with artillery reported "practically ceased.." On the 19th, all units dug in, established all around security and pushed combat patrols to the Arno to learn that the enemy apparently had succeeded in getting his main body across the muddy stream.

Three days of quiet preceded one of the 349th's roughest small unit battles. Driving for San Miniato, one officer and 40 enlisted men of Company "G" took cover from small arms fire in a house about 1000 yards east of San Miniato-counterattacks raged along the regimental front.

Attacked by Krauts in near-battalion strength, the small group bottled up in the house at Calenzano hurled back eight enemy attacks, during one of which the suicidal Krauts tried, and failed, to blow in the door with dynamite. Capt. James L. Lyons, Battalion Executive Officer, who was with the embattled unit, called for direct artillery fire and the 337th Field dumped 3,500 rounds in, near and on the house during the struggle.

At noon the 337th ran out of ammunition but shells continued to pour into the Nazi ranks as the 913th, one battery from the 339th and a 6- gun SP group from the 760th Tank Battalion all fired for Company "G" and the gallant little group holding out in the house. The attacking Germans pressed in relentlessly until the rumble of tanks was heard and Company "I" broke through to relieve the "Krautkillers," at that point down to a mere handful of ammunition and two anti-tank grenades.

Company "G" moved into San Miniato that night, found that the enemy had withdrawn after salting the rubble-strewn streets and houses with mines and booby-traps. San Romano and Buore, a small town to the north, were cleared and occupied by the 351st on the 25th. Activity from then on was limited to aggressive patrolling to the river and limited recon patrolling across the Arno with both the 350th and 349th outposting the rail line along the south bank.

Relieved by the 91st Infantry Division, regiments of the 88th pulled back to the vicinity of Villamagna for a period of specialized training in river crossing operations. The relief was screened over the air by the 88th Signal Company which maintained division radio nets and carried on "dummy" messages. Artillery units remained in position and pumped shells across the river.

[Digging the Kraut out of his hole]
Digging the Kraut out of his hole

During these last 23 days in the line, the 88th had met a different kind of Kraut -- met a German who had stopped running, a German who clung tenaciously to every foot of ground and fought vicious delaying actions when his planned lines of defense had been pierced, a German who was supported by heretofore unseen masses of heavy and long range artillery. Beset at all times by mines and booby traps which infested the roads and fields, the "Blue Devils" had cracked through four German defense lines, driven the enemy from Volterra to the north side of the Arno River.

The reverse side of the ledger showed that the Division had suffered a higher casualty toll in the 25-mile push than in the entire stretch from Minturno to above Rome. G-1 figures listing 142 officers and 2,257 enlisted men killed, wounded and missing during the operation.

Training, rest, rumors-and almost daily changes in plans for the expected assault on the Arno marked the month of August. With the fall of Florence, it was clear at long last that the frontal attack across the river would not have to be made-the 88th licked its wounds and prepared for whatever else was in prospect.

Triple award ceremonies on the 6th gave convincing proof that the rest could not last forever. Presiding at regimental ceremonies, Brig. Generals Kurtz and Kendall reviewed Division accomplishments to date and Maj. Gen. Sloan, speaking to several thousand at special religious and memorial services told Special Troops that "complete destruction of the Boche is our objective, not how many mountains and rivers we cross."

A change which affected the entire Division, came on the 9th when Maj. Gen. Sloan relinquished command of the outfit he had built from a handful of raw recruits and entered the hospital at Leghorn to undergo treatment for an annoying and puzzling skin condition which had bothered him for more than a month. It was with much regret that word was received later that Maj. Gen. Sloan was enroute to the States.

Brig. Gen. Kendall was designated by Fifth Army as the new Commanding General of the 88th. Named Assistant Division Commander was Brig. Gen. Rufus T. Ramey.

Late in the month, the 350th was sent to Leghorn as IV Corps reserve and shortly after, the 349th moved to the vicinity of Florence to back up the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Japanese-American, which had been attached to the 88th in mid-August. The 351st remained in the Division area near Volterra.

By month's end, it was apparent that the 88th was due for action again -- the regiments were pulled back and the Division bivouacked in the Scandicci area southwest of Florence. Training continued and since the possibility existed that the 88th might go into the line in any one of three different sectors, staff officers made daily trips to the 34th, 85th and 91st to keep abreast of the situation.

Time was running out -- another D-Day and H-Hour were approaching.

[Illustration: truck convoy]


"Victory is in the air and the Army Commander has entrusted you with the decisive role in this operation... Time is working against you since approaching unfavorable weather may be the bell that will save him (the enemy) and leave you with nothing better than a draw... Tear in and make this the final round."

With those words, the II Corps Commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey M. Keyes, in his Order of the Day on 6 September, set the mental stage for the drive to Bologna, the drive which was to prove the bloodiest and the most difficult of all the 88th's operations in combat.

Placed in Corps reserve, the 88th was not committed in the initial attack but held itself ready to pass through wherever it might be most needed. With the 34th, 85th and 91St slashing forward magnificently through bitter German resistance and over terrain generally regarded as "impassable," it was not until the 17th that the 88th was alerted and warned it probably would go in before another 48 hours had passed.

Moving up the "Blue Devils" concentrated in the San Piero area north of the Sieve River and prepared to go in on the Corps right flank, on the right of the 85th and passing through units of that division. The 349th and 350th went into assault positions during the night of 20-21 September and kicked off against the Gothic Line at 0500 hours on the 21st - the 351st being held in reserve.

Comparatively light resistance, encountered in the first few hours when the 349th took Mt. Frena by a surprising flanking movement, stiffened as the day and advance progressed. Early on the 22nd, the 1st Battalion, 350th, command post was raided and Lt. Col. Walter E. Bare, Jr., and all of his staff except the S-2 were taken prisoner along with operations maps and journals. This occurrence did not materially hamper the advance, however, and other favorable gains were made during the morning.

By 1700 hours on the 23rd, the 349th had taken Mt. La Fine, a commanding terrain feature, and beaten off three Kraut counterattacks -- one of which was of two-battalion strength which had been forming in a valley until smashed by accurate and heavy 337th and corps artillery concentrations.

At 1900 hours, the 351st jumped off in the center sector of the Division and soon the three regiments were moving abreast, the 350th and 351st making the main effort with the 349th garrisoning La Fine. Next day, enemy opposition increased and when the 3rd Battalion, 350th, moved from its position on Mt. Della Croce and attacked toward Mt. Acuto, some 1,200 yards away, the battalion was counterattacked fiercely. It beat off the first, shortly after a second, and moved ahead through the night -- by 0830 hours of the 25th scaled Acuto, stood off two more attacks and secured the strategic height.

[Arno dust]
Arno dust

In the assault, Capt. Thomas L. Cussans of Flint, Mich., battalion operations officer, took command of a company which had become disorganized when its commander was killed and the unit suffered heavy casualties. Nailing the first three Germans who rushed him, Cussans rallied the company, led it in a charge up the height in the face of heavy enemy machine gun and pistol fire, a charge which broke through tight lines and routed German defenders and a charge for which he later was awarded the DSC.

The 88th's drive by now had become a bitter, hill to hill slugging match with the Krauts defending every mud puddle and striking back again and again, inflicting heavy casualties on our troops. Failure of units on the Division right flank to match the 88th's progress enabled the Krauts to pour artillery at the "Blue Devils" and necessitated employment of every last reserve and the use of various attached units as flank guards.

Fog, rain and mud blocked observation, washed away at morale and hampered supply trains -- engineers basted new trails and routes across mountains and strove mightily to keep open what few, inadequate routes there were. Often under fire, 88th Signal Company men performed "near miracles" in keeping communication lines open and in full operation - the 88th Quartermaster Company and 788th Ordnance Company, half buried in mud, somehow managed to keep supplies and ammunition moving up to the men who needed them.

Early on the 25th it became apparent that Mt. Pratolungo, Mt. Carnevale and Mt. Battaglia would have to be captured before any further advances could be made. The 349th immediately took off for Pratolungo and had the height before darkness that same day. Throughout the 26th, slight advances were made and on the 27th, the 351st, hitting the town from the east, west and south, captured Castel del Rio.

[Apennine mud]
Apennine mud

New objectives for the 351st were designated as Mt. Guasteto and Mt. Capello -- the latter developing into one of the four bitterest battles of the entire drive for the Po Valley.

The battle for Capello, which lasted two days, was a struggle between German soldiers who would not withdraw and American troops who would not be stopped. The attack was launched at 0845 hours and by 1335 hours the 2nd Battalion had reached a draw 800 yards southwest of Capello. Fighting raged here for several hours, grew so fierce that the 1st Battalion, less one company, was sent to their aid, moving to the right and hitting in on the Germans from the flank. During the night, forward elements inched ahead and reached a point about 50 yards from the summit by dawn.

Attacking by deployed squads with three machine guns on the flank of each, the Germans held here; stopped the men of the 1st. The 2nd also was tied down and as casualties mounted, the headquarters company was pulled in as riflemen. All morning the two battalions hammered away in the face of heavy mortar and small arms - at 1250 hours came first encouraging news from Lt. Col. Yeager that "we are proceeding slowly." For three more hours the fighting raged undiminished until at 1536 hours came the message: "Mt. Capello taken by 1st and 2nd Battalions."

During the final hours on Capello, Staff Sgt. Sam McGowan of Beaufort, S.C., won a DSC when he volunteered to lead a platoon in breaking up a German counterattack which was forming about a house on the forward slope. With fixed bayonets, the platoon charged a group of about 100 Germans, McGowan knocking out two machine guns on the way, killing three and capturing six Krauts. Forcing one of the PW's to load a captured gun; McGowan turned it on the enemy in a draw to the rear of the house, killed 12 and scattered the rest. Wounded in the leg, he nevertheless continued on with the platoon for the mopping-up and refused to be evacuated until he'd organized the newly-won position for all around defense.

That was Capello, won with bayonet and blood and guts.

And there was Mt. Battaglia, occupied almost without opposition by the 350th and held during seven days and nights of German counterattacks in an epic stand which ranks with any in the Division and Fifth Army history.

In the Italian language, "battaglia" means "battle." To the 350th it meant that, and more - it meant close-quarter fighting, with the enemy no more than 50 yards away. It meant rain and mud and fog and constant shelling. It meant seven days and nights that blended one into another to form one continuous hell.

To the Fifth Army, Mt. Battaglia, a dominating height 11 miles from the Po Valley, meant an objective of the greatest military importance. It meant the same thing to the German High Command, but Kesselring was a trifle slow in getting his troops to the spot.

The 350th received its orders to take Battaglia on 25 September when the regiment had just won Mt. Acuto and Mt. Alto. The message read: "The Corps Commander states it is vital to Fifth Army to secure Mt. Carnevale and Mt. Battaglia. General Kendall directs you to take them as soon as possible."

On the following day, the 1st Battalion captured Mt. del Puntale. With his 3rd Battalion Combat Team, Maj. Vincent M. Witter of Berlin, N.H., moved forward through the hills south of Vallamaggiore. On the morning of the 27th, two days after the order was received, Lt. Col. Corbett M. Williamson of Macon, Ga., led his 2nd Battalion to Mt. Carnevale and drove the enemy, still in the process of digging in, from this Corps objective.

During that afternoon, Lt. Col. Williamson's battalion moved to Battaglia at that time the foremost point in the "Blue Devils' " advance. The important peak was taken without a struggle but that quiescent situation was to undergo a violent change. On the evening of the first night on "Battle Mountain," Colonel Fry received an official message of congratulations from the Corps Commander for the prompt capture of the important objective. And also, during that evening, the enemy threw in his first two counterattacks.

[Map: Thru the Gothic Line]
Thru the Gothic Line, Sept 21 to Nov 10

Dawn of the 28th found the 2nd Battalion in position on the peak with Company "G," commanded by Capt. Robert Roeder of Summit Station, Pa., as the base company. Every man with a rifle in the battalion headquarters company was sent up to defend the left flank, where they remained for three days.

In one of the enemy attacks in the bleak dawn and fog, Captain Roeder was wounded by shrapnel and knocked unconscious by a nearby shell burst. He was removed to his CP where he recovered consciousness. Refusing medical treatment, he dragged himself to the doorway of the building. Here he braced himself against a wall, picked up a dead soldier's rifle and began firing at the still approaching enemy, meantime shouting orders and encouragement to his men. He fought on until a mortar shell burst a few feet away. That was the end.

For his "magnificent courage and intrepid leadership," Captain Roeder later was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. "Of all the men present on this field of valor, it was solely through Captain Roeder's leadership that his men held Mt. Battaglia," the citation stated.

[The War Department regrets]
"The War Department regrets--"

A daybreak attack on the 30th temporarily drove the "Blue Devils" from the castle. After sending down for more grenades, flamethrowers, blankets, ammunition and dry socks, the men of the 350th made their way back up again to the castle and crest of "Battle Mountain." Capt. Thomas L. Cussans personally directed the defense on this day. Moving over the entire line, he shouted encouragement to the men and pointed out targets-directed 60-mm. mortar fire which fell only 25 to 30 yards ahead of his own troops but effectively broke up one of the counterattacks.

On the fifth day of the defense of the hill, the enemy again attacked in the dense fog behind a heavy artillery concentration. Mud clogged automatic weapons but the attack was beaten off by the use of rifle fire, grenades and supporting artillery from the 338th. Litter bearers worked night and day to evacuate the casualties -- despite the difficulties, pack mule trains toiled up the trails under shell fire to bring needed supplies.

Tech. Sgt. Manuel V. Mendoza of Mesa, Ariz., single-handedly broke up a German counterattack when he knelt on the crest of the hill, fired a. machine gun from the hip and cut down 30 Krauts out of a charging group of about 200. For this feat, he was later awarded the DSC.

On the night of 2 October, the first of the tired, drenched and muddy men of the 350th came down off "Battle Mountain." At midnight two days later, the last company was relieved. As a unit, the regiment had suffered 50 percent casualties -- reported every company commander, but one, killed or wounded in the gallant defense.

In a hospital, blinded, lay Sgt. Leo H. Beddow of Detroit. Mich., awarded a DSC for his heroism in dashing into the castle CP and wiping out a group of Germans which had penetrated into the building. Beddow killed them all, stood off others who attempted to enter and finally gave way when he was wounded and blinded by a mortar shell burst.

From "Battle Mountain," the 350th took its nickname. And for its stand there, the 2nd Battalion was awarded a War Department Distinguished Unit Citation.

Moving into Castel Del Rio, the Division CP itself took a pounding from German artillery which resulted in the death of four enlisted men and wounds to one officer and six enlisted men. Among the dead was Sgt. John T. Lowenthal of Lafayette, Ind., a soldier of German extraction who had enlisted to fight the Nazis for the liberty and freedom he had found in America.

Continuous and driving rains swelled streams to river size and the 313th Engineers doubled their tremendous efforts to keep open the lines of supply -- in several places strung high lines over washouts and flash floods by means of which supplies and ammo were sent to forward troops.

Switching its direction of attack from northeast to north, the 88th threatened Highway 9, the vital German road from Rimini to Bologna, and the Germans reacted to this threat by throwing in no less than nine divisions against the "Blue Devils" at various times in a vain effort to halt the slow, but steady, advance. Among the enemy units committed were two of his best--the 1st Parachute Division and the 90th Light Division. And Italian Fascist troops also discovered, the hard way, that they couldn't stop the "Blue Devils."

Struggling along towards its key objective of Mt. Grande, the 349th dug the Krauts out of the tiny village of Belvedere; when the fight was over they were paid the supreme tribute by a captured German officer who said that "in nine years of service I have fought in Poland, Russia and Italy -- never have I seen such spirit. I would be the proudest man in the world if I could command a unit such as the one which took Belvedere."

Driving on, the 349th took Sassaleone, cut the Sassaleone-Castel Del Rio road and despite intense opposition advanced north of Falchetto, after consolidating its positions on the Falchetto hill mass. In the push to Sassaleone, 1st Lt. Richard P. Walker of Coleman Falls, Va., won a DSC, awarded posthumously, when he put four German machine guns out of action-was killed a short time after as he led his platoon against the battalion objective.

By 0630 hours on the 10th, the 351st had passed through the 349th and slugged its way into Gesso, despite constant counterattacks in which the enemy used flamethrowers, but later withdrew. Late on the 11th, after severe artillery barrages, the 3rd Battalion went back into Gesso -- this time stayed, routing out German flamethrowers from the church and bagging more than 140 Krauts in all. That same day, the 350th managed to overcome stubborn resistance and succeeded in capturing most of Mt. Della Tombe, later was relieved by part of the 351st.

The 349th, shortly after taking over from 1st Battalion, 351st, on Della Tombe, continued its attack but was unable to advance beyond the crest of the mountain. Severe fighting ensued and resistance mounted. The enemy, funneling replacements to his line outfits and with an excellent supply of ammo and food, was determined to check this drive and avoid a breakthrough into the Po Valley at this point.

Artillery was stepped up throughout the Division area as the Germans harassed supply lines and rear areas -- located at Belvedere, the Division Rear Echelon got a taste of what the front-line doughboy endured as routine. Firing from the right flank in the vicinity of the Tossignano gun area, enemy artillery dumped shells in and near the town almost daily for a week -- "rear" suffered no casualties in its first time under fire but gained a deeper appreciation for the line troops.

On the 17th, the "Krautkillers" took San Clemente, established a road block east of the town and placed troops on Hill 435 to the northeast. Since the enemy made every possible attempt to stop the advance from this point, it became apparent that Mt. Grande was the key to the entire enemy defensive line.

Time was growing short. If Mt. Grande was to be taken at all it would have to be done before the Germans had an opportunity to reinforce it with fresh troops and organize for a last-ditch stand. On the night of 19 October, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 349th, were poised to attack -- the preliminary objectives already occupied.

The 1st Battalion objective was Mt. Cerrere, the 2nd had the mission of driving through Del Chin, across Di Sotto, Di Sopra and to the crest of Grande. The operation had to be completed by dawn to succeed. It meant calling on the last ounce of strength and guts of each doughboy. Each man knew that the long weeks of bloody fighting across rugged mountains in rain and mud -- on a front which they had come to think was a "forgotten front" by everyone but the Germans -- would be capped with failure if Grande was not taken.

The 1st Battalion mission, to seize Mt. Cerrere, was of vital importance to the entire plan. Cerrere, 1,000 yards southeast of Grande, was a prime point on the exposed right flank. To hold Grande alone would be impossible, laying the troops open to fire from the right rear and to the possibility of being completely cut off.

[No Winter sport]
No Winter sport

At 2220 hours, 19 October, the 1st Battalion pushed off with Company "A," commanded by Lt. John Ernser, in the lead. Leaving Hill 450, the troops struggled through deep mud, advancing slowly in the darkness and a driving rain. Climbing up the rocky slope, Lieutenant Ernser led his men to the crest of the mountain, meeting no resistance and encountering only light artillery fire. A large building on the highest point was surrounded and 11 Krauts were taken there. Companies "B" and "C" moved to the hilltop, joined "A," and Mt. Cerrere was organized for defense.

Meanwhile, 2nd Battalion was driving through the night to reach Grande before dawn. At 2130 hours, Company "G," commanded by 1st Lt. Robert Kelly, jumped off for Del Chin, took it without resistance. Di Sotto was occupied next and halfway to Di Sopra the company drew fire from Krauts dug in around a large house. Deploying his lead platoon, Kelly paced the men in a smashing assault - killed four, wounded three, captured six and drove off the remnants of a full company.

Less than an hour later the Germans hit back. Pfc. Frederick Gilland cut down five with his BAR before his position was overrun. With his tommygun blazing, Sgt. Erwin Baker rounded a corner of the building, pulled up short as a dozen Germans came at him. With his back to the wall he killed four - fire from the house dropped three more and the Krauts broke. Stumbling back down the hillside, they left 15 dead and wounded behind them.

Pushing on to the north, Company "G" occupied Hill 581. At 0300 hours, Companies "F" and "E" passed over Hill 581, started up the slopes of Grande. A devastating artillery preparation softened the objective as our troops advanced and heavy concentrations were dumped on possible Kraut reinforcement routes.

With the first gray light of dawn, 2nd Lt. Frank Parker with the 1st Platoon of Company "F" reached the highest point -- the top of Mt. Grande. The rest of Company "F" moved up, occupied the northern part of the hill while Company "E" dug in on the reverse slope. Less than 30 minutes later, the Krauts attacked but were beaten off -- the "Krautkillers" were on the knob to stay.

At 1100 on the 20th, the 350th reported it had captured Mt. Cuccoli to complete the seizure of the entire Mt. Grande hill mass, most strategic height along the entire Fifth Army front at the time, commanding on a clear day a view of the Po Valley about 4 miles away, and Highway 9 to Bologna.

To the 349th went commendations from Maj. Gen. Keyes and Brig. Gen. Kendall -- to the regimental CP went Lt. Gen. Clark with congratulations to Colonel Crawford and the 349th for the taking of Grande, and reminders of the grave necessity of keeping it.

On the 22nd, near Mt. Dogano, pint-sized Pfc. MacDonald Coleman of San Francisco, Calif., and the 349th, staged a one-man war and killed six, wounded one and captured 15 of a group of Germans attempting to prevent the establishment of a road block.

The attack meanwhile, rolled on, with Farnetto falling to the 350th and Frasinetto to the 349th. The stone wall came at Vedriano where, with "stand and die" orders, the Germans beat off every attempt by the 351st to take the town. A full enemy regiment defended the town; heavy reinforcements quickly were brought up. Vedriano, the closest point to the Po Valley yet assaulted by any unit of the Fifth Army, remained in enemy hands.

[Brig. Gen. Thomas E. Lewis, Division Artillery]
Brig. Gen. Thomas E. Lewis
Division Artillery
Ordered by Corps to hold up, the 88th dug in looked down into the Po and waited for further orders which would send it battling downgrade to the plain it had fought so fiercely to reach.

New orders did come but they were for relief and rest, and the Division moved to a rest camp where the "Blue Devils" rediscovered civilian comforts and luxuries they thought had ceased to exist.

There were changes in command, chief of which sent Brig. Gen. Guy O. Kurtz to command of Fifth Army artillery. Brig. Gen. Thomas E. Lewis, former Fifth Army artillery head, succeeded Brig. Gen. Kurtz. From the 34th Division came Brig. Gen. Harry B. Sherman, to replace Brig. Gen. Ramey as Assistant Division Commander. In the 349th, Col. Percy E. LeStourgeon was named to succeed Colonel Crawford, rotated to the United States.

There were commendations and congratulations for the 88th, summed up best by Brig. Gen. Kendall, Division Commander, who said "the capture of Mt. Battaglia by the 350th, Mt. Capello and Gesso by the 351st and Mt. Grande and Mt. Cerrere by the 349th, may well be considered as outstanding feats of the Italian campaign. Perhaps more noteworthy than the actual capture of these features was the will of our troops to hold them against some of the fiercest counterattacks yet encountered."

Christmas in the line was a bleak one - "peace on earth" was a bit hard to believe, but the dough-boys looked to the new year with hope.


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