FIFTH ARMY'S BLOWS IN THE FIRST PHASE of the offensive had seriously weakened the German Winter Line in a vital area (Map No. 8, page 27). The capture of the Camino hills, however, represented only half of the job that must be done in order to gain access from the Mignano corridor to the plain of the Liri Valley. The enemy still held the northern wall above the exit from the corridor; from dominating positions on Mount Sammucro and its slopes he could flank any Allied move through the exit and support his own positions on Mount Lungo, barring the mouth of the corridor. During the second phase of the Winter Line drive, Fifth Army's main effort was against the German defenses from Mount Sammucro to Mount Lungo; in the narrow valley between, the village stronghold of San Pietro was a key point in these defenses and became a symbol for success or failure in the early attacks.
Starting on 8 December, with the battles of Camino barely ended, the second phase of the offensive was timed so as to give the enemy no chance to recover from the earlier blows. Striking northwest along the axis of Highway No. 6, 11 Corps began the main assault against the formidable German positions on both sides of San Pietro. Meanwhile, 10 Corps was taking over the defense of the Camino hills, relieving the units of 11 Corps which had been holding Mounts la Difensa and Maggiore. Once again, VI Corps was to extend the pressure north of the main effort, by an attack starting 15 December and aimed as before into the mountains north of Mount Corno.
German defenses, planned to prevent a break through along Highway No. 6, extended from the rocky, orchard-covered terraces east of
PEAKS AND SLOPES OF MOUNT SAMMUCRO (seen from the south-
west) command the area of II Corps, advance through "Death Valley" and
along the Venafro-San Pietro road.
San Pietro across the valley to Mount Lungo (Map No. 15, page 44). Two battalions of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment held the main line of resistance behind an outpost line of mutually supporting pillboxes, staggered in depth. These emplacements, almost impervious to our constant artillery fire and to frequent. attacks by A-36 fighter-bombers, were deep pits covered by three layers of logs and further protected by earth and rocks. Each had only one opening, just large enough for a man to crawl through. To approach these pillboxes, our troops had first to go through a field of S-mines, then through barbed wire and more S-mines. If these outer defenses were penetrated, the enemy could bring down artillery, mortar, and heavy machine-gun fire
THE MIGNANO CORRIDOR viewed from the German side. This shows
the importance of Mount Lungo as a block at the exit from the corridor.
without danger to his own troops hidden in their shelters. The center of resistance was the village of San Pietro on the lower slopes of Mount Sammucro. From its stone buildings enemy observers could look across a narrow valley, less than a mile wide, and watch for activity on Cannavinelle Hill, Mount Rotondo, and Mount Lungo.
From their higher positions on Mount Sammucro and Mount Lungo, the Germans had every approach to San Pietro covered; and along Highway No. 6. II Corps' attack was designed to capture these heights and thus outflank the strong enemy positions in the valley. To the south, the 1st Italian Motorized Group would drive for Mount Lungo. On the north flank of the sector, the 3d Ranger Battalion and the 1st Battalion, 143d Infantry, were given the mission of capturing the
crest of the Sammucro mountains. Two battalions of the 143d Infantry would strike west along the lower slopes of Mount Sammucro and gain the high ground just above San Pietro. If our forces took these objectives, it was expected that the enemy defenses between San Pietro and Mount Lungo would be untenable.
Italian Attack on Mount Lungo
The blow at Mount Lungo, which dominated San Pietro on the southwest, was timed to coincide with the attack on the hills to the north. On 7 December the 1st Italian Motorized Group completed the relief of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, on Hill 253, the southeastern nose of Mount Lungo. The Italian group included the 67th Infantry Regiment, the 51st Bersagliere Battalion, and the 11th Field Artillery Regiment. The enemy held Mount Lungo with the 3d Battalion, 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (Map No. 16, page 49).
Artillery preparation for the Italian attack on Mount Lungo began at 0550 on 8 December. A very heavy fog came in after the close of the "serenade" and settled over the barren, rocky knobs of Lungo like a huge smoke screen. At 0630 the Italians jumped off. The 1st Battalion of the 67th Infantry Regiment moved through the fog toward Hill 343 but could make little progress in the face of heavy machinegun and mortar fire, even after an artillery concentration was placed on the hill. The 51st Bersagliere Battalion attacked along the railroad toward San Giacomo Hill, in the narrow valley southwest of Mount Lungo. By 1130 the forward elements had suffered heavy casualties, but they courageously reformed for another attack.
All the II Corps artillery was made available to support the effort, but by 1215 it was apparent that the drive would not succeed. Early in the afternoon, while the Italians reorganized for defense on Hill 253, the 2d Battalion of the 141st Infantry got into position on Mount Rotondo to guard against a possible enemy counterattack. Eight-inch howitzers of the 194th Field Artillery Battalion swept the crest of Lungo and the draw on the southwest side at 1530, and an hour later the 155th Field Artillery Battalion fired the first of five concentrations on Hill 343. Against this terrific fire the enemy was unable to attempt a counterattack.
Gaining a Foothold on Mount Sammucro
Towering high above San Pietro, the cliffs and massive ridges of
MAP NO. 16
Mount Sammucro were extremely important in the enemy's Winter Line. Hill 1205 is the highest peak of Sammucro; from its lower slopes a spur runs north about a mile, then climbs abruptly to form Hill 950. The hills and the ridge were defended by the 2d Battalion of the 71st Panzer Grenadier Regiment (Map No. 16, page 49).
At 1700 on 7 December Company A of the 143d Infantry, commanded by 1st Lt. Rufus J. Cleghorn, began the climb from the vicinity of Ceppagna to lead the 1st Battalion's assault against Hill 1205 some two miles away. The men were in excellent spirits and confident of success, although their mission was one which normally would have been assigned to specially trained mountain troops. So skillful was the approach that Company A was able to get within thirty or forty yards of the enemy before being discovered. The Germans were blasted out of their emplacements with grenades as our troops swarmed over the peak just before dawn.
But the 71st Panzer Grenadiers were not to be defeated easily. At 0700 on 8 December they counterattacked and caused heavy casualties in Company A. By 0930 they had nearly succeeded in regaining the peak. Lt. Col. William W. Burgess, Jr., commanding the 1st Battalion, sent one platoon from Company C and one from Company D to reinforce Company A; with this added strength the enemy was thrown back. On 9 December the Germans attacked from the saddle between Hills 1205 and 950 with two companies. When this effort failed, they brought up their heavy weapons company and tried again, but our infantry held in the face of heavy concentrations of enemy artillery and mortar fire. During the fighting twenty-one German prisoners were taken, including a company commander.
On the night of 9/10 December a heavy artillery concentration cleared the enemy from the pocket between Hills 1205 and 950 where most of the counterattacks had begun. Much of the credit for our success in holding the high ground was due to the excellent supporting fires of the 133d Field Artillery Battalion, commanded by Maj. Roscoe D. Gaylor. The 133d Battalion was in direct support of the 143d Infantry and also reinforced on call the fires of the 131st Field Artillery Battalion, in direct support of the Rangers.
While the 143d Infantry was consolidating the peak of Sammucro, the 3d Ranger Battalion was fighting for Hill 950. At dusk on 7 December the Rangers left their assembly area southwest of Venafro, went down the road to Ceppagna, then turned north out of the vil-
lage along the lower slopes of a ridge running northwest to Hill 950 At 0400 the next morning, Companies E and F ran into machine-gut; and mortar fire four hundred yards short of their objective. To gain the position the Rangers had to cross a saddle east of Hill 950 which the enemy controlled by fixed fire from strongly emplaced machine guns. By 0750 some troops had reached the crest of the hill, despite the enemy's stubborn defense of the saddle. An hour later a counterattack from the northwest drove them back to the northeast slopes, where they reformed for another attack. After dark the battalion again attempted to reach the hill but was unsuccessful. At 0600 on 10 December, supported by two battalions of artillery which fired sixteen hundred rounds, the Rangers once more attacked the crest of Hill 950. This time the saddle was cleared and they succeeded in gaining the crest. By 2000 the situation was well in hand, although the Rangers had taken severe losses.
With the crest of Sammucro in our possession, the enemy's positions were threatened all the way to San Vittore. Although they had already suffered heavy losses without regaining any of the ground they had been ordered to hold at all costs, the Germans made desperate attempts to recapture Hills 1205 and 950 during the next three days, from 11 to 13 December. At 0045 on 11 December a heavy counterattack supported by artillery and mortar fire was launched against Hill 1205 from the west and southwest. Our artillery fired white phosphorus shells which gave the infantry sufficient light to use their weapons in breaking up this assault. Forward observers, greatly aided by the dominating terrain II Corps now held, brought accurate fire on the enemy, scattering the counterattack and causing an estimated one hundred casualties. A smaller counterattack on Hill 950 between 0400 and 0600 was repulsed, but long-range fire fights continued in this area. On 11 and 12 December our artillery continued to discourage the enemy's effort to retake Hill 1205.
Repelling the counterattacks was costly to our units because of the heavy concentrations of enemy supporting fires. The fighting strength of the 1st Battalion, 143d Infantry, was down to 340 men on 10 December. Its commander, Col. Burgess, was wounded on the morning of 9 December and his command was taken over by Maj. David M. Frazior. Capt. Lewis S. Horton, Jr., commanding Company C, was fatally wounded by sniper fire on 8 December. Five days later Capt.
Henry T. Waskow was killed while leading Company B in an attempt to push west toward Hill 730.
Between 11 and 13 December, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment took over the sector north from Hill 1205 to the slopes of Mount Corno, relieving the Rangers and reinforcing the 1st Battalion of the 143d Infantry.
The 143d Infantry Batters at San Pietro
In the attack that started on 8 December, the 143d Infantry had the mission of capturing not only the Sammucro peak but also the slopes of that mountain just above the enemy strongpoint at San Pietro (Map No. 16, page 49). The 2d and 3d Battalions were used for the effort toward San Pietro. A draw one mile east of the village was the line of departure for the 2d Battalion, which was to lead the assault. 2d Lt. John J. Kline, leader of the Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon, went forward with his men at 2200 on 7 December to set up an ammunition dump in this draw. To carry out its mission the platoon had to cross terrain actively patrolled by the enemy, and Lt. Kline established the dump at the cost of his own life. In order to arrive on time at the line of departure, a mile and a half from the summit of Cannavinelle Hill, the 2d Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Charles J. Denholm, moved out at midnight. Its route, almost straight down the mountain, involved "one big slide" through the mud. A white tape laid the previous day to mark the route was almost invisible in the rain and darkness.
Crossing the line of departure on schedule at 0620, the assault companies reached a point about four hundred yards out when the enemy pinned them down with heavy small-arms, mortar, and artillery fire. The infantry had come to mined and booby-trapped barbed-wire defenses in front of pillboxes. While a hall of bullets ripped the olive trees to shreds, many of our men jumped through the wire in an attempt to throw hand grenades through the firing slits of the pillboxes. Col. William H. Martin then committed the 3d Battalion, sending one company on the left and two on the right of the 2d Battalion. Company L, led by 1st Lt. John C. Morrisey, moved southwest across the Venafro-San Pietro road in an attempt to get around the strongpoint and protect the 2d Battalion's left flank. The company was stopped after going some five hundred yards. At 1130, in order
to restore the momentum of the drive, Companies I and K went in on the right of the 2d Battalion to work along the higher ground toward San Pietro, but they made little headway. The German defenses were too strong, and accurate artillery and mortar fire from Mount Lungo fell on our men. At nightfall the enemy lines remained essentially unchanged.
Shells from the 131st and 133d Field Artillery Battalions pounded the enemy positions during the night and early morning hours. At 0845 on 9 December the 2d and 3d Battalions resumed the attack. All day the effort continued, but progress was measured in terms of a few hard-won yards. At 1918 the troops were ordered to all back behind the line of departure while our artillery again poured shells
MAP NO. 17
into the almost impregnable emplacements. From 10 to 14 December there was little action against San Pietro itself. Above, on the right flank, our troops consolidated their gains on Mount Sammucro's crest and eastern slopes.
Plans for Further Attack
The first week of II Corps' attack had netted results only on the right flank, where the highest peaks in the Sammucro mass were now in our hands. The 36th Division planned a further effort to capture Mount Lungo and San Pietro for 15 December, coinciding with the renewal of VI Corps' operations in the mountains to the north (Map No. 17, page 53).
Once again, the enemy was to be hit hard all along the division front, and this time in greater force. On the mountain flank, General Walker planned to exploit the foothold gained earlier; a battalion of the 143d Infantry, assisted by the 504th Parachute Infantry, would attack from Hill 1205 to seize three peaks on the western shoulder of Sammucro commanding the valley behind San Pietro. South of Highway No. 6, a stronger assault was mounted against Mount Lungo. The 142d Infantry was scheduled to attack it from the south and, west on 15 December, and the 1st Italian Motorized Group, on 16 December, would push up the southeastern slope. In the center, the 36th Division aimed new blows at the San Pietro area. In a coordinated attack, two battalions of the 143d Infantry and a company of the 753d Tank Battalion would try once again to reach the slopes above the strongpoint and then push beyond to San Vittore. In a simultaneous attack the 141st Infantry would move from Mount Rotondo directly across the valley toward San Pietro
Fighting West From Mount Sammucro
By the night of 14 December the 1st Battalion, 143d Infantry, with the 2d Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, on its right, was in position high up on the slopes of Mount Sammucro (Map No. 18, page 55). The 143d's objective was Hill 730, from which fire could be directed on enemy movements along the road between San Pietro and San Vittore. To reach it, the assault troops had to cross a deep saddle with precipitous sides. A less difficult approach would have been from the north, but this route was blocked by the enemy on Hill 687, which the parachute troops had been ordered to capture.
MAP NO. 18
Shortly after midnight the 1st Battalion, 143d Infantry, started forward with Company B in the lead; according to plan the 2d Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, followed at the right. As the troops of the 143d reached the saddle they were caught in heavy machinegun and mortar fire, which pinned the battalion down two-thirds of the way to its objective. Moonlight gave the enemy good visibility, and the bare slopes of the saddle offered little concealment. Casualties were heavy. Meanwhile, the parachute troops were unable either to gain Hill 687 or to assist the 1st Battalion of the 143d. By 1000 on 15 December the fighting strength of the latter unit was about 155 men-with no ammunition. The 2d Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry was back on Hill 1205.
In preparation for renewing the attack, supply officers assembled carrying parties and sent them up Mount Sammucro; by morning of the 16th all units were amply supplied. Company A of the 143d Infantry, which had joined the parachute troops during the night in another unsuccessful attempt to take Hill 687, had reached a knoll close to Hill 730. On the right the paratroopers were dug in ap-
proximately five hundred yards southeast of their goal. At 1000 the enemy counterattacked without success from the south and east against Company A.
It was clear that the Germans intended to protect as long as possible their escape route from San Pietro and that fresh units would be needed by II Corps to continue the push west from Sammucro. Accordingly the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, moved up to relieve the 1st Battalion of the 143d and to be attached to the 143d as soon as relief was completed. On 17 December the exhausted 1st Battalion descended the rocky slopes, after having been in battle since 7 December. A company from the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, reinforced the 2d Battalion of that regiment, which had to capture one more ridge before Hill 687 could be taken. The following day the 2d Battalion was to be completely relieved by the 1st.
The Second Battle for San Pietro
The main effort of the 36th Division was scheduled to start at 1200 on 15 December, with San Pietro as the objective. The 2d and 3d Battalions of the 143d Infantry would try once more to work along the slopes of Sammucro to a point above the village. From positions between Mount Rotondo and Cannavinelle Hill, the 2d Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, had the mission of crossing the valley and entering San Pietro from the south (Map No. 17, page 53).
The use of tanks in this attack presented special problems. It was hoped that the armor would get through the formidable defenses and clear the way for the infantry; however, even had there been no enemy opposition, the terrain itself would have been almost impossible for cross-country movement by the tanks (Map No. 19, page 57). First plans called for Company A, 753d Tank Battalion, to move with the 143d Infantry along the Sammucro slopes, well above the San Pietro-Venafro, road. The ground on either side of the narrow road was a series of rock-walled terraces, three to seven feet high, covered with olive trees and scrub growth, and broken by stream beds, gullies, and other irregularities. One attempt was made to get the tanks high enough up on the slopes so that they could move forward to the attack along the upper terraces, pass through our forward positions, and then drop down from one terrace to the next. The 111th Engineers broke down terrace walls to make a trail
MAP NO. 19
A PRESSURE TYPE S-MINE is removed from a trail on 8 December by a
detonation squad of the 504th Parachute Infantry.
up to the command post of the 3d Battalion, 143d Infantry. On 12 December when a tank of Company A tried out this route, it got only as far as the second terrace; repeated efforts to overcome the mud and the grade resulted only in the tank throwing its track.
This failure led to modification of the attack plan, with Company A now scheduled to operate along the road below the 143d Infantry. The armored advance, in column of platoons, would split about twelve hundred yards east of San Pietro on a trail that turned north off the road and then ran west into San Pietro. While one platoon proceeded on the road, a second would turn up the trail and reach a position overlooking the village. The third platoon would follow in reserve. With main movement restricted to the road, success of this armored operation depended on whether the Germans had mined
the route and were prepared to blow the bridges. Nothing could be done about the mines. The battalion obtained a British Valentine treadway tank, specially equipped with a scissors bridge, to help if the enemy destroyed the bridges.
Prior to H Hour—noon on 15 December—the artillery fired its prearranged concentrations and smoked Mount Lungo to screen the attack from observation on the left. Company B, 753d Tank Battalion, supported with fire from the north slopes of Mount Rotondo. Company A, 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion, on the western slope of Cannavinelle Hill, had a similar mission. Company C, 753d Tank Battalion, was prepared, on division order, to move along Highway No. 6 past Mount Lungo to the road junction, where it was to support the attack by firing on targets west of San Pietro.
At 1100 Company A, 753d Tank Battalion, moved along the road east of Mount Sammucro and crossed the line of departure an hour later. The sixteen medium tanks, with the British Valentine tank, reached the trail cut-off leading to San Pietro without receiving any artillery fire. This much surprise was partly due to the effective
ON THE ROAD TO SAN PIETRO an American infantryman passes one
of the tanks lost by Company A, 753d Tank Battalion, in its unsuccessful
attempt to reach the village along this road. The stone retaining wall at the
right limited tank operations to the road.
smoking of Mount Lungo. The leading tank turned off to climb the trail, which proved to be too narrow. The tank edged off the trail to the slope below and with great difficulty traversed the terraces toward San Pietro. The crew fired on groups of Germans, including officers from an enemy command post, and destroyed several machinegun nests before reaching the north edge of the ruined village. By this time darkness was setting in, and the crew was ordered to bring the tank back to the trail junction.
The second tank, moving along the road, crossed the bridge one thousand yards east of town and was disabled by a mine. From this time on the enemy brought artillery and mortar fire down on the area. The crew stayed with their tank to fire on any targets appearing on the terraces above. The third armored vehicle passed the disabled tank and moved down the road to another trail cut-off which was blocked by a destroyed Mark IV. An enemy shell exploded on this tank when it reached the south edge of San Pietro, but several of the crew proceeded on foot into the village where they were supposed to join the troops of the 141st Infantry. Shells set fire to the next two tanks. In front of the bridge beyond the trail cut-off, where the British tank had stopped, three more hit mines and blocked the road, while two tanks turned over trying to follow the route across the terraces, and two more threw their tracks.
At the close of the day only four of the sixteen tanks were able to return to their assembly area, carrying thirteen crews and part of the British tank crew. Seven tanks were destroyed and five disabled. Because of mines and bad terrain, the tank company had not been able to carry out its mission.
The infantry attack north of the Venafro road had no better fortune than in the earlier effort along the same high ground. The 2d and 3d Battalions of the 143d Infantry were stopped three hundred yards from their line of departure by mines, mortar fire, and the automatic weapons in enemy resistance nests. At 1400, reserves were ordered by Col. Martin to aid the tanks by attacking west along the axis of the road. Company E was stopped in the wired-in and mined area, covered by defensive fires. When Company L attacked south of the road, it met the same intense fire. By the end of the day, Company E, reduced to seven riflemen, and Company L, with only nine, were forced to pull back. Withdrawing to its line of departure, the 2d Battalion went into reserve; 3d Battalion took over its front.
The attack on San Pietro from the south meant crossing the valley below the village, on ground exposed to enemy observation and fire from both sides of Highway No. 6. The attempt was made by the 2d Battalion, 141st Infantry. Maj. Milton J. Landry, commanding the battalion, had moved his men to positions northeast of Mount Rotondo before the jump-off at 1253. Heavy artillery fire was immediately encountered by the two attacking companies, and Company F was forced to shift southwest at the line of departure. Fire from enemy positions on the terraces of San Pietro and near the base of Mount Lungo caused severe casualties to units struggling to get across what came to be named "Death Valley." Capt. Charles H. Hamner was killed while leading Company F, and Capt. Charles M. Beacham, commanding Company G, was wounded. After reorganizing, the battalion renewed the attack at 1730 and Company E was committed. Again casualties were heavy, and again Maj. Landry ordered a re-
MAP NO. 20
organization. At 2000 the rifle companies were down to an average of fifty-two officers and men each.
Maj. Landry ordered a third attack to start at 0100 on 16 December. By that time all communications had been destroyed and no supporting fires could be arranged. Aided only by mortar fire from Company H, the infantry stormed the defenses with grenades and bayonets. A few men from Companies E and F penetrated San Pietro. A third reorganization, ordered at 0200, revealed that the three rifle companies had a total strength of 130 officers and men. Lt. Col. Aaron W. Wyatt, Jr., then sent in Company L, with 102 officers and men, to reinforce the 2d Battalion's drive. The fourth attack began at 0600, with Companies E and F leading the assault. Again the deadly machine-gun fire took its toll, and at 0730 Maj. Landry called for smoke to cover the men, caught at daylight in exposed positions. Col. Wyatt ordered the depleted battalion to retreat to its line of departure at 0940, but it was nearly three hours before Maj. Landry received the order by messenger. By 1530, most of the troops were back. Of the 166 casualties, 35 had been killed. Evacuation and care of the wounded were made difficult by enemy snipers, who fired on the battalion aid station until a platoon of Company L eliminated them in the afternoon.
Capture of Mount Lungo
After its success in Operation Raincoat, the 142d Infantry held Mount la Difensa and Mount Maggiore. 10 Corps took over Mount la Difensa on 10 December and relieved the 142d on Maggiore two days later. This gave the 142d Infantry time to prepare for the coming attack. On 12 December a reinforced platoon of Company G occupied San Giacomo Hill in the valley east of Mount Maggiore. That night other troops occupied Hill 141 on the northwest nose of Mount Maggiore and Hill 72. With these positions secured, the regiment was ready to attack Mount Lungo (Map No. 20, page 61).
During the night of 13/14 December, the 1st and 2d Battalions of the 142d Infantry left their bivouac north of Caspoli, marched up the trail to Ridge 368, and went into assembly area on the north-
STONE PILLBOXES were typical of Winter Line defenses. This well-hidden
dugout, reinforced with rock and railroad ties, guards the slopes of Mount
ern slopes of Mount Maggiore. The next night the 3d Battalion moved up to Hill 141. The assault on Lungo began at 1730 on the 15th. On the left, the 2d Battalion swung around to the west nose of Lungo and pressed forward vigorously up the ridge. 2d Lt. Joe W. Gill (then 1st Sgt.), leading a platoon of Company F, discovered a cave whose opening was covered by a shelter-half. Gill slipped up unobserved, jerked the shelter-half aside, and yanked one of the surprised enemy out of the cave. He then forced his captive to point out all the emplacements in the area, enabling the platoon to capture fifteen well-entrenched gunners. Pvt. Gerald D. Wood, a sharpshooting infantryman of Company G, destroyed three enemy machine guns by firing at their muzzle blasts. In this manner the 2d Battalion mopped up the opposition and reached its initial objective on the top of Lungo by dawn on 16 December.
Equal success met the efforts of the 1st Battalion attacking toward the center of Lungo. Again individual exploits and well-coordinated small-unit actions won the objective with minimum losses. Cpl. John L. Waddell and Pfc. John C. Peralez, in a platoon of Company C leading the battalion's advance, discovered a minefield in the valley south of the railroad. Without waiting for orders, they cleared a route for the troops behind them by crawling, clipping wires, and removing mines. Pvt. Peralez was mortally wounded while working at this task. 2d Lt. David O. Gorgol's platoon of Company A was pinned down by the cross fire between two machine guns. With an enlisted man, Lt. Gorgol worked around to the flank of one gun, threw a grenade into the position, then walked into the nest and killed the crew. After his success the platoon could maneuver and wipe out the remaining gun. One of the Company A's snipers, Pfc. Gordon R. Bondurant, kept such accurate fire on forty entrenched Germans that they were surrounded and captured.
Enemy trucks, rushing reinforcements forward, suffered direct hits from accurate shooting by the 132d Field Artillery Battalion. By 1000 on 16 December the mountain was captured and our troops were mopping up. Meanwhile, the 1st Italian Motorized Group, delayed in its attack, jumped off at 0915 on 16 December to assault the southeastern ridge between Hills 253 and 343 and occupied it early in the afternoon. In the operations on Lungo, the enemy lost nearly two hundred killed, wounded, arid captured; our own losses were
AMERICAN INFANTRY ENTER SAN PIETRO, which was almost com-
pletely destroyed by artillery and mortar concentrations during the long battle for the town.
light. The success of II Corps on this flank undoubtedly influenced the German decision to abandon San Pietro.
The Germans Pull Out of San Pietro
The Germans could no longer expect to hold San Pietro when the dominating ground on both flanks, Mount Lungo and the Sammucro peaks, was in II Corps' possession. On 16 December, within three hours after the last positions on Mount Lungo were captured, the Germans launched a counterattack from San Pietro to cover their withdrawal (Map No. 20, page 61). The main thrust was directed against the 3d Battalion of the 143d Infantry north of the San Pietro-Venafro road, where the enemy had maximum concealment. Shortly after dark, while rumors were circulating about a German
THE ROAD TO ROME stretches across this valley northwest from Mount
Lungo. Mount Porchia is the smaller hill on the left of Highway No. 6 with
Mount Trocchio behind it. In the background rises the snow-capped peak of
Mount Cairo behind Cassino. Mount 14 Chiaia is on the right.
retreat, the counterattack broke in all its fury. Company I, which at first bore the brunt of the push, lost its last officer; but Pfc. Charles F. Dennis rallied the company and our line held. Soon the entire battalion front was an inferno of bursting shells, smoke, and tracers. Capt. Marion P. Bowden, crouched in the culvert that served as the battalion command post, called for artillery fire to fall one hundred yards in front of our troops. This fire held the enemy at bay. Company K's communications with the battalion command post were lost, but the company commander, Capt. Henry C. Bragaw went from position to position constantly exposing himself to enemy fire and encouraged his men to hold on. Such fine leadership helped to frustrate the attack.
When it became apparent that the enemy effort was nearly ended, Col. Martin called for artillery to hit the withdrawal routes. The 131st and 133d Field Artillery Battalions and the 636th Tank Destroyer Battalion poured their shells after the retreating Germans. At midnight a cluster of colored flares went up from the slopes north of San Pietro, apparently an enemy signal to withdraw. The counterattack definitely ended by 0100 on 17 December. After daylight, patrols found the elaborate defenses abandoned, and our lines moved forward to the town and the high ground to the north.
The battles for San Pietro were over. While the work of clearing away mines and booby traps and repairing roads went on, the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, moved into position on the mountain northeast of San Pietro. On 19 December the 15th Infantry of the 3d Division relieved the 142d Infantry on Mount Lungo. In front of II Corps the enemy had withdrawn to his next defensive line based on Cedro Hill, Mount Porchia, San Vittore, and the western spurs of Sammucro.
MAP NO. 21
page created 20 July 2001
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