Italy – U.S. infantry advances behind artillery barrage

Artillery observers of the Fifth Army look over the German-held Italian town of San Vittore, on November 1, 1943, before an artillery barrage to dislodge the Germans.

Artillery observers of the Fifth Army look over the German-held Italian town of San Vittore, on November 1, 1943, before an artillery barrage to dislodge the Germans.

In Italy it was time for the infantry to make yet another attack across a river valley and then assault a hilltop village. This time the approach was 1500 yards of flat land followed by a steep ascent.

Journalist Don Whitehead was as close to the front as he could be and watching from the command post where they had a clear view of the battle. Since this was for publication he does not mention the unit, although he always sought to personalise his reports by mentioning individuals and where they came from. This was his dispatch from the 4th November 1943:

The barrage began at midnight. Hundreds of guns poured tons of shells into the enemy. The noise was terric, and the mountains formed a perfect sounding board. Flames and showers of sparks across the valley made a fantastic display. The barrage was to advance some 300 feet every six seconds in order to stay out in front of the infantry. But some of the shells began falling short. “For God’s sake,” yelled the colonel. “Get that fire lifted in front of that outfit.”

But there was no communication. The telephones were dead, and the radios wouldn’t work. A tank had run off the road in the darkness and had chewed up the telephone wires. Our shells began falling farther inside the enemy area. “That’s better,” a captain said. Finally, a line was opened to one unit. “Tell them to be alert on the phone,” the colonel said. “They have no one there right now,” someone said. “They all are on the move to a new location.”

“Oh! Hell!” the colonel snorted. “Clarke, go down to the river and find out what’s going on. Dammit, we’ve got to have information. Need any help?” “Naw. I’ll be all right.”

He walked into the darkness. It was 3:20 a.m. Capt. Clarke reported back that Lieut. Col. Ed Bird of Des Moin s, Iowa, had all his outfit across the river and that Major Floyd Sparks of Iowa and his unit were well advanced.

Then came word that Col. Bird’s outfit had walked into a booby-trapped vineyard. Cunningly wired traps and mines were taking a toll as our troops tried to work their way out toward the enemy.

Shortly after dawn a report came that Major Sparks had reached his objective, but was having to clean out the enemy holding the high ground above the ridge, while Col. Bird’s unit worked along the ridge toward the town of Roccaravindola.

The Germans had dug in the town and were sweeping the approaches with machine gun fire. In the valley a column of black smoke rolled up. “What’s that?” the colonel asked.

“Jerry has blown the bridge.” “That’s a good sign. That means he does not intend to stay.” “Look!” someone shouted.

A column of Germans was climbing the hill toward the town. Obviously they were going to reinforce the town’s defenders. “Get some fire on them fast,” the colonel ordered.

Within three minutes mortars and high explosive 37—millimeter shells began bursting along the slope. Then the Germans came running down the hillside in wild disorder. Shell bursts followed them. “Those gunners,” said the colonel, “get the gilded bird cage with the stuffed canary as first prize.”

See Don Whitehead: Beachhead Don: Reporting the War from the European Theater: 1942-1945.

Members of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare to fire an 81mm mortar during the battle for Italy, September 1943.

Members of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare to fire an 81mm mortar during the battle for Italy, September 1943.

Leave a Comment

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: