Tip of the Avalanche

Tip of the Avalanche by Keith Rocco. Salerno, Italy -- September 9, 1943.

The U.S. Army's longest World War II campaign began in Italy on September 9, 1943, when the Texas National Guard's 36th Infantry Division landed at Salerno, south of Naples. Operation AVALANCHE was the first Allied thrust onto the European continent.

The "Texas" Division, federalized in November 1940, shipped out two and a half years later for North Africa. The "T-Patchers" did not take part in the Sicily campaign of July-August 1943, but instead were selected as the American VI Corps' assault division for AVALANCHE.

On September 3rd, the British Eighth Army landed at Calabria on the toe of the Italian boot. Allied planners hoped that this would pull the Germans south, away from the main landing at Salerno. Over the objections of his naval task force commander, Fifth Army commander Lt. Gen. Mark Clark vetoed a pre-invasion bombardment in favor of a surprise landing.

Unfortunately for the Texans, the Germans saw them coming. Landing craft carrying the first waves of the 141st and 142nd Infantry were 300 yards from shore at about 3:15a.m. when German shells began falling. Landing craft took direct hits, spilling men into the sea; disabled boats created a logjam. Machine gun fire greeted the men who made it to the beach, but in small groups the T-Patchers began fighting their way inland.

At 5:30 a.m., much-needed artillery landed, and the 151st Field Artillery and the 143rd Infantry's Cannon Company repulsed an armored attack. During the next two days German attention turned to the British sector, allowing the 36th to consolidate and move inland as reinforcements, including parts of Oklahoma's 45th Division, arrived. But Kesselring was gathering units for a counterattack, and by September 12th six panzer divisions faced the Allies, whose units were so decimated by the fierce fighting over the next two days that Clark began planning for evacuation.

But Allied air superiority, and superb naval gunnery, finally drove the Germans back. Salerno was secured -- but the battle up the mountainous Italian peninsula, where Germans held the high ground, had just begun for the 36th Infantry Division, the first U.S. division to land on the continent of Europe

Source: National Guard Heritage Paintings.

Above: Key parts of the battlefield looking north from the U.S. lines toward the German positions.

Salerno plus 65 logo


Presented by the Texas Military Forces Museum

Sat. 18 October 2008
10:00 a.m. TXNG Air Assault Demonstration
1:00 p.m. TXNG Obstacle Course Demonstration
See a dramatic recreation of the desperate battle to hold the first Allied beachhead in Europe. Vehicles committed to this event include 10 jeeps; 2 Bren gun carriers, 1 CCKW, 2 Kubelwagens, 1 motorcycle with sidecar, 1 x 1941 truck (German)

Event location: Camp Swift (near Bastrop)

Map showing location of event

Camp Swift is located on State Highway 95 between the city of Elgin on State Highway 290 and the city of Bastrop on State Highway 71. Bastrop and Elgin are each about 30 minutes driving time from the edge of Austin.

Entrance to the event will be at Gate 5, located on FM 2336.

For more information: call the museum at 512-782-5659 or revisit this page for updates.

Oktoberfest activities are sponsored by the Texas Military Forces along with the cities of Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville. For description of Oktoberfest events and schedule, please visit our AG's Oktoberfest Activities page

Download Salerno65.pdf to print event information and help spread the world via email.

Past event images