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Velletri and the Fall of Rome

Our 1st Battalion, which had already started feeling out the enemy positions during May 31, 1944, launched a full scale assault against Velletri on June 1, 1944. In 24 hours of fighting the battalion threw 24 tons of ammunition against the town. After throwing back fierce resistance, they were able to penetrate the outskirts of the town at 1800 hours after the 2nd Battalion, overcoming similar resistance to the north of town, had begun its penetration of the town at 1200 hours. The 2nd Battalion was fighting from a position where it had been severed completely from its route of supply and evacuation. The 1st Battalion by-passed the town and took up positions west as the 2nd Battalion completed the mop-up of the fallen bastion by midnight of June 1, 1944

Velletri was in shambles. The almost constant artillery falling on the town during the attack had left scarcely a building unmarred. Dead Germans, abandoned and shattered materiel, numerous knocked out tanks, vehicles and dead horses, debris and piles of rubble littered the streets. Numerous German wounded and dead were found in the houses. An excited Italian doctor rushed out to the troops and announced that he had delivered the first bambino to be born after the liberation and wanted to know if the child was an American citizen.

Our losses had been light compared to the intensity of the battle and the victorious result. Our dead, wounded and missing amounted to 339. But we had captured with the smooth sureness of fighting veterans the key strong point in the Velletri-Valmontone line. Enemy dead everywhere bore witness to the skill of our attack. We counted over 700 prisoners, and then, with our cage full and overflowing, lost count as others were simply directed down the road to Division and Corps cages in large groups, despondently defeated and unguarded. Over 340 decorations were awarded later to the personnel of the regiment for their gallant action at Velletri. It was the greatest victory we had experienced in Italy. After the disaster at the Rapido and the bitterness of the winter campaign, we had at last an opportunity to see our proud enemy humbled and surrendering in large groups.

Our victory at Velletri enabled our troops to crumble the entire Southern line. The beaten and disorganized enemy began to retreat. Since this was no time for us to rest, we took up the pursuit. This was the breakthrough. We moved rapidly to the hills due east of. Lake Nemi. Our 3rd Battalion, followed by the 1st Battalion, continued advancing up the Velletri-Marino highway and prepared, on order, to attack the Mount Alto hill mass. Four enemy planes bombed and strafed our 3rd and 1st Battalions, causing numerous casualties. A short while later, heavy artillery concentrations fell on the leading companies and caused considerable confusion and casualties.

The 2nd Battalion, having advanced along Highway No. 7 out of Velletri towards Rome, was relieved by the 157th Infantry Regiment, and rejoined us in position near Lake Nemi.

The Germans layed down many artillery concentrations, but no definite defensive positions were encountered. Scattered groups of enemy snipers continued to harass many units. Prisoners continued to drift back from forward positions.

Our 2nd Battalion, taking up the advance, overcame brief but bitter resistance from road blocks near Hill 660 and from the crossroads southeast of Lake Albano.

During the night of June 3-4th, information was received from Division that the German withdrawal had turned into a complete rout. Accordingly, our units were motorized as far as possible with kitchen trucks for the pursuit into Rome. After deploying two battalions to overcome the stubborn resistance at Marino, our columns pushed without difficulty into Rome.

John E. Pretsch Drawing

As we began our victorious march through the capital city on the morning of June 5, 1944, the entire population seemed to line the streets. Silent at first and then, cheering lustily and crowding close to see our troops, they combined to give us the traditional Roman ovation. We crossed the Tiber River and moved south of Vatican City. Vehicles moved with difficulty down the narrow lanes of cheering Italians. Foot soldiers had difficulty in maintaining their columns. The jam of traffic and the tumultous ovation of the civilians prevented us from clearing the city until late in the afternoon. We moved into an area to the north of Rome for the night.

John E. Pretsch DrawingThe reported reception of one Italian citizen of Rome was typical: "I hear the sounds of the guns and I say, "Maria, you taka the bambino and go to the shelter. All is quiet and I look into the street and I see your iron wagons named 'Troppo Caro' and 'Tom Tom' and I say loud for Maria to hear, 'Come, it is the Americanos.' Have you got a cigarette?"

After a brief rest north of Rome and a stop at Lake Bracciano, meeting only spotty resistance during our marches, we stopped a few miles northeast of the Port of Civitavecchia. Beginning our move again, we arrived at Montalto Di Castro on June 9, 1944, and passed through the 361st Infantry Regiment on June 10th. After progressing rapidly, we were suddenly stopped by several vicious counterattacks which the Germans launched from what appeared at first to be only a lightly held road block south of Orbetello.

On June 14, 1944, we became the main element in Task Force Ramey and moved 51 miles northeast into Scanscano, Italy. No opposition was encountered. The following day, our columns entered S. Caterina after overcoming a German roadblock near the village. Moving across country from S. Caterina, our elements moved west to Cana and thence by trails to the east-west road running out of Grosseto. This route was taken in order to arrive at a position from which an attack could be launched on Campagnatico to the northeast across the Ombrone River. This village was known to be occupied by the enemy.

Campagnatico was located on the top of a high hill and the Germans made excellent use of self-propelled artillery to deny our approach to the summit. The slopes were protected with machine gun fire and mine fields. Our supply route was through a ford over the river which had risen considerably due to heavy rains.

After sharp clashes on the slopes, we were able to enter the town by 1130 hours of June 18, 1944. The town following, Paganico, was assaulted immediately and taken on June 19, 1944 after a fierce encounter with enemy tanks and street fighters. Our advance then continued without incident until part of our elements were past Roccastrada. The 1st Armored Division then passed through us and we reverted to control of the 36th Division on June 25, 1944.

Our Division was then relieved and we returned to a rest area about eight miles northwest of Rome. With this relief, we saw the end of fighting in Italy. We had seen over 137 days of combat — combat under conditions as bitter as that seen by troops anywhere. We had suffered over 3,000 casualties in killed, wounded and missing. We had inflicted grievous injury on the enemy. Our grueling campaign had awarded us a great victory and the liberation of the first axis capitol, Rome.

With the pride of battles and the step of veterans, we turned to another task of training. There were still other battles to be fought. There were still other victories to be won before our enemy faced complete dissolution and complete defeat.

When the time came, we would be ready.

 

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