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Bloody Salerno

The Germans, unable to penetrate the area of the rock fences, reformed time and time again and attacked in groups of two, four and six tanks. These assaults were repulsed each time by the use of anti-tank grenades, rocket grenades, machine guns and mortars, since no supporting weapons of the field type had yet arrived. Elements of all companies were finally able to establish a thin line along the canal. Behind this line the battalion was able to make considerable progress towards reorganization by daybreak.

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A Sergeant from Company I, unconscious from the concussion of an exploding 88 mm. shell which killed two members of his squad, was evacuated to a ship for medical attention. Upon regaining consciousness, he asked for permission to return to his men. After being refused permission by a medical officer, he asked to see the ship's Captain who reconsidered his case and allowed him to go ashore on the first boat.

With our 1st Battalion on the right neutralized by overpowering tank action on the flat ground, and our 2nd delayed in landing, it was our 3rd Battalion which bore the full brunt of the initial German firepower and counter attacks, both frontal and flanking. The men, however, fought doggedly on without artillery support or assistance from adjacent units, replenishing their depleted supply of ammunition from the dead and wounded.

Our 2nd Battalion began coming in at 0530 hours on Yellow Beach and proceeded to the embattled left flank of the 3rd Battalion. Fortunately, they landed during a lull in the fighting and were able to maintain unit integrity.

One wave of the 2nd Battalion was constituted wholly of British landing craft, manned by the Royal Navy. Just as the wave nosed to the shoreline, a German gun fired tracers harmlessly over the boats from the left flank. The troops, poised with bayonets fixed, seemed to hesitate momentarily. The coxswain shouted: "Run lads, run! The Jerries are waiting!"

The regimental command group landed at 0550 hours and established a command post behind the 3rd Battalion, which was still struggling to maintain its foothold. Immediate attempts by the shore party to contact the Navy for supporting fire failed. Only two of our twelve supporting artillery guns arrived as scheduled. The others had been turned to sea by the Navy, and were to come in at Red Beach to our north later.

Between 0730 and 0830 hours, with full light of morning and observation from the commanding terrain, the enemy mounted his most determined attack. Supported by 88 mm. self-propelled fire, rifle fire, mortars and tank artillery teams, assault groups of an elite, Panzer unit, armed principally with light machine guns, began their coordinated attack. The area of Blue and Yellow Beaches seemed to break into flame as shell after shell exploded in the sand and the water, setting fire to landing craft and shore installations. Clouds of black smoke billowed above the terrifying cannonade. Wounded men, waiting near the beach for evacuation to the ships, were wounded again, and others, already wounded, were killed. The reverberation of the exploding shells and the ear-splitting crescendo of bullets drowned out the shouts of commands and the anguish of the wounded and dying. Our individual men disappeared in an inferno of violence.

The waves of arriving boats were in utter confusion. One landing craft, hit solidly in front by tank fire at point blank range, seemed to rise completely out of water. Sinking and spinning crazily, it was hit astern by a second shell and became screened in its blast of smoke and game. Men from other disabled craft were washed ashore. Some, freshly wounded, were tossed up helplessly by the waves and died bleeding on the sand, which was cleaned again and again by the constant surf.

The battle raged on, swelling in volume and violence. The suffocating odor of explosives burned sensitive passages of the nose. Ears ached with an intensity beyond awareness of pain. Throats gasped at the air filled with smoke and dust. Eyes reddened and vision dulled in an atmosphere fouled by death and destruction.

The landing of men and supplies had to be stopped. With nothing arriving at the beaches and with no contact with the Navy by radio, we stood alone. "Yes," one veteran said later, smiling grimly as he read a newspaper report praising commanders for putting their command posts in the front lines at Salerno, "they had to be there — we didn't have anything that morning but front lines and water."

The enemy tanks were almost to the beaches between our flanks. just as the Germans seemed to balance us on the brink of disaster and seemed poised for the fatal thrust, their attack stopped as abruptly as it had started. A backwash of silence pounded cars like a clap of thunder. Then came the reassuring, familiar crack of our weapons rising in volume, dominating the withdrawal fires of the enemy.

With the sound of our guns came new spirit.

Our 2nd Battalion, still intact, launched its thrust between the 3rd Battalion. and the ruins of Paestum to the north. With two companies in the assault and one, covering the extension of the right flank, and with heavy weapons neutralizing fires from the right flank, the unit moved out and met with immediate' success. Although enemy machine gunners, supported by eight tanks, were operating across the area, they were dispersed by the fury of the assault.

At 0915 hours, as the German tanks were regrouping near the railroad crossing, the first naval gun support was received. The initial salvo, hitting only a few hundred yards from our troops, landed in the center of the enemy concentrations, causing their complete dispersal. Two of eight tanks were knocked out and the remainder made a hasty retreat to the east and south. Companies E and F were across the railroad, and our 3rd Battalion consolidated its position and began to advance. A new feeling of confidence was spreading in our ranks.

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