|Enemy fire, sensing the beginning of the assault, replied immediately. A mortar shell
exploded in the command group of the lead company, wounding the 1st Sergeant and the
Company Commander. The Sergeant was evacuated, but the Company Commander, only slightly
wounded, remained to direct the attack.
It was necessary for our troops to cross an open area about 125 yards wide before penetration of the enemy fortifications could begin. The Germans reacted vigorously, bringing cross fire to bear on the assaulting platoons from several machine guns. Dead and wounded marked the route of advance. By the time the first terrace had been taken the loss of leaders and the deadly intensity of the defender's fire had caused a complete dissolution of the assault formation. Before the shattered unit could be reorganized, one of our tanks rounded the curve above the terrace and the platoons were again ordered forward in an attempt to enter the embattled village with the armor. Just as the elements of one of our platoons entered the edge of San Pietro, the supporting tank, caught squarely by enemy fire, lurched from the road and crashed to the slope, enveloped helplessly in dust.
The lines of our men broke; the fire of their guns slowed. Some wavered and some fell back. The ground seemed to rise and settle with the violence of the explosions. A pall of smoke and dust gathered over the contested area and reduced visibility. In between the noise of the bursting shells could be heard the liquid crack of enemy weapons and our duller sounding guns. Ears ached from the concussion and the pungent odor of exploding shells filled the vibrating air.
Company F, assaulting directly into the blazing guns of the enemy, unmindful of the rising cost in dead and wounded, was able to reach the outer defenses. Concentration. after concentration of enemy mortar fire was directed into the area. The lines became intermixed and our formations dissolved in the confusion of battle. Lack of communication made it impossible to continue the attack. Fighting individually and in groups of two or three, the men held desperately to their ground.
At 1730 hours, Company E, with a partly reorganized Company F, attempted to advance up the terraced slopes. What remained of Company G stayed in position. This advance was again repulsed by the enemy. At 2000 hours, the battalion was directed to reorganize and continue the attack under cover of darkness. At this time Companies E, F and G did not have enough men left to constitute one rifle company. Thirty-four men were left out of the company which had led the initial assault.
The attack was resumed at 0100 hours, Company E and Company F again in the assault. Elements of the two companies succeeded in penetrating the edge of San Pietro, neutralizing several German positions and destroying one ammunition dump before overwhelming fire forced their withdrawal.
Despite the large number of casualties, the battalion launched still another assault at 0600 hours. Company L had been attached to our depleted Second Battalion with orders to enter San Pietro from the west if the battalion succeeded in clearing the Germans from the southern slopes. The battalion moved within 200 yards of their objective before the attack was broken by intense machine gun fire and anti-personnel mines which were thickly planted in the area. Daybreak found the battalion, completely shattered, in the open and exposed to the searching sniper and machine gun fire of the enemy.
The establishment of a defensive position under the cover of smoke was begun at 0730 hours. At 0940 hours, the battalion was ordered to move back past the line of departure. Due to the complete disruption of all communication, the order was not delivered until 1230 hours and could not be accomplished until 1530 hours.
By 1545 hours, December 16, 1943, we were advised that the 142nd Infantry Regiment and the Italian units had taken all of Mount Lungo. Our 1st Battalion, which had not been in the line since December 7th, moved into position on the mountain northeast of San Pietro on the night of December 16-17th along the flank of the 143rd Infantry Regiment, which had been unsuccessful in its attempts to advance. Our patrols entered San Pietro on December 17th and found that the Krauts had withdrawn during the night. Two wounded men from Company G were found in the village, having been in San Pietro since the first assault of the Company.
Under cover of darkness, the 3rd Battalion completed relief of the 2nd. At 0830 hours on December 19th, our 3rd Battalion began its advance beyond San Pietro to C. Morello, which was reported by Division to be lightly held. The battalion was almost on it's assigned objective when it made contact with the enemy. Company K attempted an envelopment of the ground from the right, but was repulsed. We found that the ground was held by two enemy companies with at least 20 machine guns.
The 2nd Battalion moved into a position southeast of C. Morello and was assigned several patrol, contact and counterattack missions.
At 1730 hours, December 20, 1943, the 3rd Battalion started for the Mount Sammucro trail. The field train, was moved from Presenzano to a new area approximately two and one-half miles southwest of Venafro. Since the move was made in heavy rain which had turned the roads and fields into quagmires of mud, there was a delay in supplying the units and our 3rd Battalion was held up over an hour until rations could be delivered to the men. It was 2115 hours before our 3rd Battalion was able to begin its climb up the rocky slopes of Mount Sammucro. The trail was very steep and cratered and the incessant rain had made the path extremely slippery. Shortly after midnight the Germans placed artillery and machine gun fire on the advancing column. The fire caused the column to break from the trail and considerable confusion and dispersal of men resulted.
A carrying party of 120 men, newly arrived as replacements and detailed to carry supplies to our 1st Battalion, lost contact with guides and returned to the bottom of the hill.
The 3rd Battalion reached a point approximately 350 yards from Hill 730, its march objective, at 0220 hours. It was to attack from Hill 730, moving southwest, and capture San Vittore at daybreak. Upon arrival at this point, Company B, which had been assigned the job of clearing the enemy from the hill, was still engaged in a fire fight. The trail route received increasing machine gun fire, and it became impossible to maintain control of the units and continue the march. At 0325 hours orders were issued for the 3rd Battalion, less Company K, to return to the point of departure. Communications had been disrupted by enemy fire and it was not until 0500 hours that the order was received. Daylight came and the battalion completed its withdrawal under the cover of smoke and began to prepare concealed positions at the bottom of the slope at 0815 hours.
Company B had been unable to unseat the Germans from Hill 730 and heavy casualties experienced by the unit forced its withdrawal. The hill had been reported by Division as being lightly held, but was later confirmed to be defended by over 200 men whose emplacements included pillboxes and numerous machine guns covering the approaches. Company K was attached to the 1st Battalion to remain in positions formerly occupied by Company B.
Company K was returned to the 3rd Battalion on December 22nd, and by 1159 hours on December 23rd, the battalion relieved two battalions of the 143rd Infantry Regiment northeast of San Pietro.
Our 1st Battalion was attached to the Special Service Force on December 22nd and occupied Hill 730 after it was taken by an assault of the latter unit on December 25th. The 1st Battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment was attached to our regiment and relieved our 2nd Battalion just prior to midnight of Christmas Day. Our 2nd Battalion then moved back to bivouac near the field trains. On the 28th of December the battalion, followed the next day by our 1st Battalion, moved to the San Angelo d'Alife rest area. They were joined on December 30th by the 3rd Battalion and the remainder of the regiment, after relief had been completed by the 135th Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division.
With the end of December, 1943, came the end of our fight to clear the Mignano Gap. The Germans, were falling back from the bitterly contested area to their lines on the Rapido, the Garigliano and the strongpoint at Cassino. Our operations, with the exception of our costly efforts at San Pietro and the operations around Hill 730 and C. Morello, had been defensive. Days and nights had been marked by endless patrolling, eternal vigilance at our outposts, the incessant thunder of artillery, the whine of the Luftwaffe, and the mud and the rain and the weary bitterness of always another hill to climb. From the wind and the cold where each advance was measured in yard after soggy yard at the cost of lines of wounded and the broken bodies of our heroic dead, from the scarred bills of battle, we turned gratefully to a rest, hot food, a bath and clean clothes.
The enemy had called us "wild men from Texas, skilled in fieldcraft and fighting".
We would meet him again.
Copyright © 1945, 1998 141st Infantry Regiment