America’s elite 1st Particular Service Pressure gained eternal fame in its first fight mission by storming Monte La Difensa in Italy and overwhelming the defenders in a brutal six-day battle.
By Christopher Miskimon
Nightfall got here early as they boarded the convoy of vans, their olive-drab varieties softened by saggy trousers and heavy subject jackets.
The 2nd Regiment, 1st Particular Service Drive (1st SSF) was leaving its barracks at Santa Maria, Italy, for the village of Presenzano, 37 miles north of Naples and at present the headquarters of the 36th Infantry Division.
The vans slowly made their means down muddy roads utilizing solely the dim lights of their blackout drives; nobody needed enemy observers to identify the motion of those new troops to the entrance. It was December 1, 1943, and because the convoy proceeded a chilly rain started to fall, drenching the canvas tarpaulins of the vans and decreasing visibility even additional. All that might be seen within the distance have been the stuttering flashes of artillery hearth.
The vans arrived in Presenzano at 9 pm. Guides from the 142nd Infantry Regiment met them and led them into the forested terrain past the village. Forward of them lay the imposing bulk of Monte La Difensa, a well-fortified level key to the German protection of the Winter Line, a collection of defensive positions designed to cease the Allied advance towards Rome.
It was darkish, moist, and chilly, however the regiment needed to attain its staging space earlier than daybreak so the enemy wouldn’t know they have been there. It was a 10-mile march, and a few of the males carried near their very own weight in weapons and gear. They have been match and hard and as much as the duty, nevertheless. They handed the our bodies of People killed earlier within the battle and stored going.
Sergeant Donald MacKinnon of the 2nd Regiment’s 1st Firm remembered, “There was a menacing feeling about the entire thing.… We have been so exhausted with the trouble to maintain up, clawing [and] sliding our means within the very troublesome circumstances, that we thought, if we had to enter motion once we arrived, we might be ineffective.”
Lastly, the top of the column arrived on the staging space, though the tail finish wouldn’t arrive till almost sunup. The lads took cowl within the timber and undergrowth, hiding themselves as greatest they might. The rain lastly stopped. Behind them the remainder of the pressure waited farther to the rear; the 2nd Regiment was the spearhead.
It will be the unit’s first time in fight, and it had been given a very arduous activity. The now hidden troopers rested and waited by means of the day; to move the time they cleaned their weapons, ate chilly rations, and awaited the approaching of dusk so they might show the belief positioned in them was properly deserved.
The first Particular Service Drive had its origins in early 1942. The Allies, looking for methods to strike at a Germany that dominated the European continent, have been wanting intently at commando forces. The British had expertise in creating and using such troops, and the newly arrived People have been keen to include comparable models of their very own.
The British conceived of making a commando-style drive educated for winter warfare that might spearhead a deliberate invasion of Norway. They named the idea Operation Plough. Towards that finish they researched a tracked car able to working in snow that had been conceived by a civilian inventor, Geoffrey Pyke.
Once they realized they lacked the power to develop the car, the British provided Pyke’s idea to the People. U.S. Military Chief of Employees Common George C. Marshall accepted it and despatched the plan to American auto producers for additional improvement. Ultimately this might end result within the tracked T-15 (later the M-29) “Weasel” cargo service.
In the meantime, Operation Plough was studied by Lt. Col. Robert T. Frederick, a West Pointer (class of 1928), then a employees officer on the Struggle Division. It referred to as for a multinational commando drive made up of People, Canadians, and Norwegians, however Frederick was crucial of Plough as a result of it lacked a sensible withdrawal technique for the troops.
Improvement continued nonetheless, with the preliminary concept to type the commando unit utilizing American, Canadian, and Norwegian troopers in equal numbers. The Norwegians proved unable to offer adequate numbers of certified troops, nevertheless, so the undertaking went ahead utilizing People and Canadians.
Having already caught the attention of leaders reminiscent of Common Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lord Louis Mountbatten, Frederick was given command of the brand new drive, referred to as the Plough Drive. He put out a request for volunteers—males who have been single, between 21 and 35, and who had had at the least three years of grammar faculty. Additional, they needed to have had expertise within the outside, so Frederick required recruits to have labored as recreation wardens, lumberjacks, hunters, prospectors, explorers, or comparable jobs.
The Plough Drive was quickly renamed the first Particular Service Pressure and was activated on July 20, 1942, at Fort William Henry Harrison close to Helena, Montana—good nation for such a pressure to coach in.
That very same month the Canadian Military detailed 697 officers and males to the drive. Technically, they might stay a part of the Canadian Military, however the price of all clothes, gear, and bills can be assumed by the USA authorities. Frederick had the uncooked clay of his commando pressure and set about molding it right into a unit worthy of its identify.
The first SSF’s coaching was among the many most arduous given to any Allied troopers through the conflict. Bodily health took a excessive precedence; solely males in peak situation would have the ability to perform the demanding activity of preventing within the chilly and snow.
Pressured marches might span 36 miles with a full load of fight gear. The lads additionally acquired parachute coaching, although the compressed time obtainable meant they solely made two jumps fairly than the traditional 5. This went on for a number of months; the outcome was a cohesive unit of robust, resourceful males capable of work collectively underneath troublesome circumstances.
First Lieutenant Invoice Story recalled, “We did calisthenics, prolonged calisthenics…. We had the standard pushups and operating from place to put, however we additionally did a whole lot of strolling, lots of merely strolling over the hills and climbing up the mountains. It was wonderful conditioning. There was mountaineering, too.”
There was additionally coaching in small-unit techniques, weapons to incorporate enemy small arms, and survival. The demolitions coaching was so intense and frequent that a number of occasions the lads blew up the flawed targets. Hand-to-hand fight coaching was offered by Eire-born Captain Dermot Michael (“Pat”) O’Neill, a martial arts professional and former worldwide police chief in Shanghai. O’Neill confirmed the lads methods to kill utilizing knives, garrotes, and simply their palms and ft.
The first SSF was organized in another way from commonplace infantry formations, nearer to that of airborne or different specialised Allied formations, and mirrored its binational origin.
The essential unit of the group was the part, composed of 12 males led by a employees sergeant. The part included demolition specialists, a medic, and a radioman, not in contrast to trendy Particular Forces groups. There have been two sections in a platoon, which additionally had a mortar group and was led by a lieutenant and platoon sergeant. Three platoons made up an organization.
There have been three regiments, however solely two battalions per regiment, and a battalion consisted of three, as an alternative of 4, corporations. The first SSF additionally had a headquarters that included service, upkeep, medical, and communications outfits of varied sizes. At full power there have been almost 2,800 males within the 1st SSF, a strong measurement for a commando-style institution.
The service debut of the first SSF got here within the Aleutian Islands on August 15, 1943, through the invasion of Kiska. The first Regiment (Lt. Col. Alfred Marshall) led the assault in rubber boats whereas the third Regiment (Lt. Col. Edward Walker) got here ashore the subsequent day; the 2nd Regiment (Lt. Col. D.D. Williamson) waited offshore as a reserve. The assault proved to be anticlimactic because the Japanese had evacuated three days earlier than, leaving nobody to battle.
The occasion proved not more than a sensible coaching train, although the lads have been praised for his or her professionalism by the invasion’s commander for touchdown in darkness and attaining all their aims on schedule regardless of the tough climate and troublesome terrain. Colonel Frederick was additionally singled out for reward.
To utilize the first SSF’s skills, the unit was shortly introduced again to america and, by September 1943, was coaching once more at Fort Ethan Allen in Vermont. Nobody advised them the place their subsequent task can be, however they started to obtain classes on Italy and its individuals, so it was not exhausting to guess. They quickly departed for Hampton Roads, Virginia, the place they boarded transports and departed for the Mediterranean on October 28, 1943. Forward of them lay the Winter Line, a hell of chilly climate and shut fight.
From September to the winter of 1943, the Allies struggled to maneuver up the mountainous boot of Italy towards Rome and factors north. The Allies made progress, however it was robust going. The German commander, Area Marshal Albert Kesselring, was decided to make the advancing Anglo-American drive pay for each inch of Italian soil it seized.
The restricted and rugged terrain gave benefit to the protection. Kesselring selected to type a most important line of resistance referred to as the Gustav Line that ran from one coast to the opposite by way of Monte Cassino, however he wanted time to assemble its defenses.
In entrance of the Gustav Line one other defensive work referred to as the Bernhardt Line was shortly shaped; together with delaying actions alongside the Volturno River, this promised to delay the Allied advance till the Germans have been prepared for them. Collectively all these fortifications can be often known as the Winter Line.
The Bernhardt Line was partly composed of a number of mountains that ignored the Mignano Hole—a route that led into the Liri Valley and Rome past. A number of mountain plenty sat on both sides of the hole; on one aspect was Monte Lungo, whereas the opposite aspect was coated by Montes Maggiore, La Remetanea, La Difensa, and Camino.
These mountains made wonderful defensive positions and offered statement of the complete space. At 1,900 ft excessive, Monte La Difensa and its companion peaks shaped the important thing to holding the world; with out them the German protection would ultimately crumble. Capturing them can be no straightforward activity, nevertheless.
A postwar U.S. Military research of the battle said, “The Winter Line as an entity was thus a formidable barrier to operations of the Allied Armies. There was no single key, no alternative for an excellent stroke that would break it. Every mountain needed to be taken, every valley cleared, after which there have been nonetheless extra mountains forward and nonetheless one other line to be damaged by dogged infantry assaults.”
Numerous Allied models had tried to take these mountains, however a mixture of the stiff protection, dangerous climate, and exhaustion from earlier preventing left them unable to take action. Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, commanding the U.S. Fifth Military, wanted a drive that would break open this mountainous protection and get the stalled Allied drive shifting once more. The first SSF was chosen for the duty and arrived within the space on November 22.
The drive was hooked up to the 36th Infantry Division, which had just lately relieved the third Infantry Division alongside the Winter Line. The lads have been assigned to take 1,900-foot-high Monte La Difensa and transfer on to grab the adjoining Monte La Remetanea. Frederick and his males started getting ready for the troublesome activity forward.
To defend the Winter Line, Kesselring assigned Basic Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin’s XIV Panzer Corps. This formation contained 5 divisions with totally different ranges of fight expertise; as Monte La Difensa was a key level, the veteran 15th Panzergrenadier Division was assigned to carry it.
They have been arrayed in depth with good artillery help and quite a few mortars that would drop speedy and correct hearth all alongside the entrance. The German observers shortly registered their weapons and mortars on doubtless avenues of advance and established provide and casualty evacuation routes. Many positions have been shaped utilizing native rock to make bulletproof machine-gun nests with interlocking fields of fireside.
The target the first SSF was assigned to assault was particularly defended by about 250 males of the third Battalion, 104th Panzergrenadier Regiment. Subsequent to them, about half of the third Battalion, 129th Panzergrenadiers was additionally within the 1st SSF zone; the opposite half was unfold into the zone of the neighboring British 56th Division. The native reserve for these models was the 115th Reconnaissance Battalion.
One report put the full variety of Germans defending the mountain at about 340. They have been properly supported by artillery, however Allied air strikes and artillery hearth made it troublesome for them to get provides ahead. By the point of the first SSF assault, that they had already held off Allied assaults regardless of being understrength.
Monte La Difensa is a steep mountain general. Its decrease slopes are coated in scrub pine and dotted with boulders, neither of which offered a lot cowl or concealment. The higher slopes held virtually no vegetation, and the summit was a shallow melancholy. One aspect contained sheer cliffs that would not be climbed with out specialised gear and coaching.
There have been many trails that have been too steep even for mules, thus requiring males to be the pack animals. Quite a few deep ravines abounded, making any ascent much more troublesome. General, Monte La Difensa seemed to be a pure fortress, virtually impregnable because it towered over the Allied strains.
Colonel Frederick carried out private reconnaissance of the mountain and despatched 1st SSF scouts to reconnoiter it as nicely. They found that the place, though formidable, was not with out its weaknesses. Frederick flew quite a lot of aerial reconnaissance missions across the mountain and observed most of the preventing positions have been utterly targeted on the more than likely path of assault and weren’t located or constructed to simply defend towards an assault from their flanks or rear.
The Germans themselves later famous this, blaming a scarcity of skilled officers and engineers for the shortcoming. Frederick observed that the sheer cliffs on the mountain’s northeast aspect have been a troublesome impediment, however one which his males have been educated and outfitted to beat.
One scouting get together was shaped by Main Ed Thomas, the chief officer of the first Battalion, 2nd Regiment. He took two lead scouts from the first Firm—Employees Sgt. Howard Van Ausdale and Canadian Sergeant Tom Fenton.
Van Ausdale quickly discovered a strategy to attain the bottom of the cliffs. Personal Joseph Dauphinais of the first Firm recalled, “Van was a king amongst scouts. He was an actual mountain man; he might learn terrain as you would learn a guide. He discovered a superb route for us to succeed in the entrance of the cliff with out being detected by the Germans.”
Frederick assigned Lt. Col. D.D. Williamson’s 2nd Regiment to steer the assault; they must scale the mountain, shock the Germans, after which proceed by means of to Monte La Remetanea. The first Regiment, underneath Lt. Col. Alfred Marshall, would wait on the base of the mountain as a part of the division reserve.
Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Walker’s third Regiment was assigned separate duties for its battalions; one would wait on the base of the mountain in help of the 2nd Regiment whereas the opposite would act as provide carriers and stretcher bearers. Supporting them can be 14 battalions of divisional and corps artillery, together with two battalions of Eight-inch weapons. Moreover, two battalions of tank destroyers would lend the load of their weapons to the struggle.
It was an incredible massing of firepower, all obtainable in help of Frederick and his males. The mountainous terrain required the artillery to fireside at excessive angles, nevertheless, considerably blunting its impact towards bunkers.
The lads of the first SSF had educated lengthy and exhausting for his or her half within the warfare. That they had been dissatisfied within the Aleutians however now had the prospect to show their unit and themselves worthy of the trouble that had gone into creating it. Frederick was decided to not let the chance slip by means of his arms.
As nightfall settled over the Winter Line on December 2, it was now time for the first SSF to make its assault. A heavy barrage began at four:30 pm, with some 925 Allied weapons saturating German positions all alongside the entrance line. Hundreds of high-explosive shells slammed into the mountain defenses, joined by the bursting of white phosphorous rounds, which despatched burning plumes of white smoke in all instructions.
Because the artillery crashed and thundered above, the lads of the 2nd Regiment slowly made their method up the mountain, trailing one another in single-file columns alongside the paths found earlier by the scouts. A few of them appeared up on the barrage and nicknamed Monte La Difensa the “Million Greenback Mountain,” estimating the price of the ammunition being expended upon it.
In reply, the German artillery opened hearth, utilizing its preplanned concentrating on to hit the varied trails they suspected the Allied troops may take, in addition to the prevailing defensive positions of the 36th Division.
Consequently, the drive’s command publish, help station, and provide factors all took hearth to various levels. This artillery duel, daunting and spectacular because it was, brought on little mayhem on both aspect; the first SSF was on the transfer, and the Germans have been nicely dug in.
Williamson’s 2nd Regiment reached the bottom of the cliffs on the northeastern aspect of Monte La Difensa by 10:30 pm; now it was time to start climbing. Two pairs of males have been chosen to take the ropes up the cliffs. The lead pair—Employees Sgt. Ausdale and Canadian Sergeant Fenton once more—went first, utilizing one of the best climbing path to the highest of the mountain that that they had already scouted.
Stealthily the 2 males picked their means up the 70-degree slope of the cliff utilizing solely their arms and ft for buy. Upon reaching the summit, they needed to dodge a close-by German sentry however succeeded in tying off their ropes.
The second pair of males, Personal Joseph Dauphinais and Sergeant John Walter, adopted behind the 2 lead scouts and tied their very own ropes to those already set. The three corporations of the regiment’s 1st Battalion (Lt. Col. Thomas MacWilliam) have been now set to ascend the cliffs and enter fight for the primary time. They carried solely their weapons, ammunition, and musette luggage, as mild a burden as potential to hurry their rise.
Behind them, Moore’s 2nd Battalion waited for its flip to climb, carrying with them extra weapons and ammunition together with water. Farther down the slope, a part of Walker’s third Regiment ready to hold out its provide runs, loaded down with meals, extra water, medical provides, and ever extra ammunition. It was a tense time; if any unit have been noticed, shock can be misplaced and the entire pressure uncovered to German hearth.
Lastly, at 1 am, Frederick gave the order for the first Battalion to start its ascent. Two at a time, the troopers made their means up the cliff. The strain grew even worse; every tiny sound of the ascent appeared to echo loudly, inflicting the lads to marvel if the Germans had heard them. A chilly rain was falling, making the rocks slick however doubtless masking what little noise they have been making. The artillery had shifted hearth, however this was truly good. The rounds hanging the brand new goal, Monte Remetanea, brought about echoes that additional stifled the noise of the Allied climbers.
Two hours later, the first Firm had scaled the mountain and all stood on the prime, shaped right into a tough skirmish line, creeping rigorously to their left. The 2nd Firm was completely on the summit at four:30 amand took its place within the middle.
Lastly, the lads of third Firm made their method up the ropes and occupied the suitable flank. Of their first fight motion, the first SSF had achieved full shock—the Germans have been unaware of an enemy battalion of their rear, as that they had not guarded it sufficiently because of the cliffs they thought unassailable. Now it was time to assault.
The first Firm’s third Platoon was on the entrance of that assault, and scout Howard Van Ausdale was within the lead. All of the sudden, as he crept ahead, a German sentry appeared and noticed Van Ausdale. The American shortly drew his Fairbairn-Sykes preventing knife and stabbed his opponent quietly sufficient in order that it didn’t alert any others.
Not but lifeless, the German rolled down the slope and landed close to a sergeant named Waling, who watched the enemy soldier gasping for air. Moments later, Waling continued ahead with the remainder of the lads, now solely yards away from their foes.
Instantly, a German voice referred to as out within the darkness. Tales range as to what alerted the German; one model factors to some unfastened rocks, kicked as the lads coated the previous few ft. One other story factors to a helmet falling off a person’s head. Regardless of the case, simply after the German referred to as out he was answered with gunfire.
Sergeant Donald MacKinnon recalled, “That’s when machine-gun hearth opened up throughout us.” It was about 5:30 am; flares soared into the sky, shedding stark illumination throughout the rocky panorama. Mortar rounds flew via the air to land among the many males, who replied with grenades and glued bayonets.
The highest of Monte La Difensa erupted right into a hell of hand-to-hand fight, explosions, and screams of ache and rage. Sergeant Joe Glass of 1st Firm later remembered, “We received into it instantly.… We had fastened our bayonets as a result of we anticipated hand-to-hand fight, and thank God we did, as a result of we have been working actual shut.… I’m unsure what occurred these first few seconds. However very quickly in any respect, I didn’t have a grenade left.”
Glass described how he used a type of grenades: “There was a Kraut down under me over a ledge capturing tracers straight up within the air. I simply dropped one proper down on his head. They’re good weapons, if you understand how to make use of them.”
The Germans had been taken abruptly, however they have been reacting shortly; that they had no selection in the event that they needed to outlive. The 2nd Regiment males have been attacking simply as savagely, although, pouring hearth into the enemy positions. Personal Kenneth Betts helped man a machine gun, firing on any German he might see. Quickly the gun was empty, so Betts picked up a rifle from a lifeless comrade and went ahead. The Germans turned their very own machine weapons round so they might interact this menace from their rear.
Personal Joseph Dauphinais discovered himself near an MG-42, its crews firing burst after burst at him. He had little cowl and will solely watch the muzzle flashes because the bullets sought him out. Lastly, one struck him, and he handed out.
The brave Sergeant Van Ausdale continued to make a distinction wherever he went that morning. The final German positions atop the mountain have been a number of machine-gun nests, and the crews of the MG-42s inside them have been pouring a murderous hearth into the Allied ranks.
A sergeant named McGinty was main his part in an assault on one of many machine-gun nests however had turn into pinned down. Van Ausdale and his fellow scout Sergeant Fenton laid down hearth on the enemy till McGinty might evacuate his wounded. Van Ausdale then rounded up eight males, referred to as for 3 rounds from the corporate 60mm mortar, and directed a machine-gun group to put down its personal hearth onto the Germans, who have been inside a cave.
The incoming hearth labored, and Van Ausdale led his part over the ledge and into the cave, utilizing bayonets and grenades to remove the defenders. One other MG-42 farther up the mountainside quickly fell sufferer to the identical techniques.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas MacWilliam, the first Battalion commander, now despatched his 1st Firm, beneath Lieutenant C.W. Rothlin, and Captain Stan Waters’ 2nd Firm to take out the remaining nests. They ordered the third Platoon of 1st Firm to put down hearth whereas the remainder of the 2 corporations outflanked the machine weapons. A platoon underneath a lieutenant named Kaasch shaped a skirmish line whereas the officer went forward with two males.
They succeeded in flanking the primary gun, inflicting its complete crew to give up. The lads then superior on the second gun, however that crew stored firing; a storm of grenades settled the difficulty, leaving a lot of the Germans lifeless round their weapon.
With two extra machine weapons out of motion, a lot of the remaining panzergrenadiers determined they’d had sufficient. Many started retreating throughout the slender saddle that separates Monte La Difensa from close by Monte Remetanea. Those that couldn’t get away surrendered; for a couple of minutes the mountainside was dotted with white flags and Germans with their palms held excessive.
A couple of panzergrenadiers have been nonetheless preventing, nevertheless, and this led to tragedy. The first Firm commander, Lieutenant Rothlin, was coping with a gaggle of surrendering enemy when he was shot within the face. Accounts range; some say he raised his head or left a place of canopy to verify on some Germans who had raised their arms. Others declare he was escorting some males who had already surrendered. One other story said the Germans would feign give up with submachine weapons hid behind their backs. Regardless of the trigger, Rothlin was killed within the chaos of the second.
In response, a number of males adopted a “take no prisoners” angle. The corporate was now led by 1st Lt. Larry Piette, who unfold his males out to make them much less weak to incoming mortar and sniper hearth. “The Krauts fought like they didn’t have any intention of dropping the warfare,” remembered one other lieutenant. “We didn’t take any prisoners. Preventing like that, you don’t search for any.” One other soldier was informed to escort a captured officer again down the mountain. He returned just some minutes later, reporting, “The son of a bitch died of pneumonia.”
By 7 am, Lt. Col. MacWilliam had deployed his 1st Battalion in defensive positions, able to repel an anticipated German counterattack. The lads have been positioned to defend the south and west faces of the mountain; Monte Remetanea lay to the west and was nonetheless held by the Germans.
The 2nd Regiment’s 2nd Battalion, beneath Lt. Col. Bob Moore, had simply begun to reach on the mountaintop. The recent troops started changing the first Battalion males so they might put together to push on towards Monte Remetanea; MacWilliam needed to maneuver on Remetanea earlier than the Germans might regain their stability. The Allied commander additionally realized the American 36th Division’s 142nd Regiment was attacking adjoining to them and can be exhausting pressed to carry their positive aspects until the Germans have been pushed again farther.
The first Battalion shaped as much as advance, and true to type MacWilliam and his employees took place on the entrance, prepared to steer their males ahead. German mortar and artillery hearth started touchdown amongst them, and enemy snipers fired at no matter goal appeared of their sights. MacWilliam, on the head of the first Firm, had simply given the order to maneuver out. Within the very subsequent second a mortar spherical exploded of their midst, killing the commander and two others.
One soldier recalled, “I seemed again simply in time to see them disappear—it was only a purple mist.” The remainder of the employees was wounded, blast and shrapnel pelting all the group.
The much-needed assault, needed to stop the Germans from regaining their stability, was momentarily stopped in its tracks. Taking MacWilliam’s place was Main Ed Thomas, the chief officer of 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment.
Colonel Frederick quickly arrived as nicely and advised Thomas to attend till extra males and ammunition might be introduced up. The colonel had made his headquarters on the base of the mountain however climbed the ropes to personally see what was occurring.
Frederick moved among the many troops, sending out patrols and slowly increasing the patch of rocky floor the first SSF held and continuously exposing himself to enemy hearth to steer the lads ahead. One captain recalled, “His indifference to enemy hearth was arduous to elucidate, as there have been occasions when a heavy barrage of mortar hearth would ship us scurrying for canopy solely to return again and discover him smoking a cigarette—in the identical place and place we had vacated in a rush.”
The first SSF males grimly held on; a lieutenant remembered sharing his foxhole with an enemy soldier. “He didn’t bum any cigarettes or something, as a result of he was lifeless.”
At about Eight:35 am, Frederick was given a message from a British liaison officer stating that the adjoining British 169th Brigade had taken a number of hills together with Monte Camino. Sadly, the Germans truly nonetheless had a presence on the northwestern aspect of Camino and have been utilizing it to direct hearth on the first SSF. They have been additionally reinforcing the saddle between Difensa and Camino. The U.S. 142nd Infantry Regiment was additionally pushing ahead to its aims, unwilling to attend for Monte Remetanea to be taken.
The resupply efforts have been taking time, so Frederick determined to attend till daybreak the subsequent morning for 2nd Regiment’s assault. He informed the unit’s leaders to make use of artillery hearth in a single day towards the German positions and to ship out patrols to remove any Germans to their south. Later, as Walker’s third Regiment started arriving with recent provides, phrase got here that the British had misplaced Camino to a German counterattack.
That resupply effort was virtually as miraculous because the profitable ascent of the mountain by the attacking 1st SSF males. Every man carried a packboard on his again, loaded with jerrycans of water, packages of rations, and heavy burdens of ammunition. Blankets and medical provides added extra weight. It took eight hours to rise up the mountain with such a load, and snipers shot at them all the means.
As soon as on the summit, their provides unloaded, they now needed to return to the underside, often carrying a wounded man utilizing a posh association of ropes to decrease him to the underside. It took 10 hours and eight males to get one casualty down Monte La Difensa and to a ready ambulance.
At first, a number of the males grumbled that appearing as provide troops was beneath their coaching and expertise. Such speak stopped as soon as they realized that no abnormal medics, stretcher bearers, or quartermaster males might probably have gotten both up or down the mountain. They have been saving lives nobody else might have saved.
Colonel Frederick requested further provides, inflicting raised eyebrows among the many supporting logistics officers. He needed whiskey and condoms despatched to the highest of Monte La Difensa, reportedly inflicting some to marvel what sort of get together was occurring far above them. Frederick’s intentions have been a lot much less sordid, nevertheless; the whiskey was to heat the lads, who have been struggling within the chilly and damp climate. The condoms have been to be positioned over the muzzles of their weapons to maintain them dry, a trick the first SSF picked up within the frozen Aleutians. The weird request acquired so far as Mark Clark, who accredited it, saying one thing like, “They took the mountain, give them what they need.”
The Germans continued to do all they might to stop the Allied troops from reaching the highest or getting again down once more. Snipers used tracer rounds to direct mortar and artillery hearth. They knew the place the paths have been and swept hearth forwards and backwards alongside them, concentrating on every finish of the paths to stop straightforward escape. Many 1st SSF males have been wounded and the remaining exhausted on this lethal and harmful work.
Because the resupply effort went on, Frederick’s intelligence officer, Lieutenant Finn Roll, interrogated 43 Germans taken prisoner atop La Difensa. He discovered their enemy was the 15th Panzergrenadier Division, a minimum of a battalion of which was nonetheless dug in on the prime. Roll additionally knew about 75 enemy lifeless had been counted from the morning’s assault; the first SSF had misplaced about 20 killed and 160 wounded in the identical interval.
A number of males remembered one German medic who had declined to be evacuated together with his fellow prisoners. As an alternative, he stayed on the summit, tending to the injured there. One soldier suffered from a sucking chest wound, a critical and sometimes deadly situation that the Allied medics had been unable to treatment. The skilled German medic handled the person efficiently; the wounded he handled hoped to thank him later, however his eventual destiny is unknown.
After dusk, rain added to the first SSF’s plight. The drained males atop La Difensa peered into the darkish and fog, tensely awaiting a German counterattack. Patrols groped round, making an attempt to find out the enemy positions and strengths.
Whereas the 2nd Regiment endured, down under the first Regiment was launched from the divisional reserve, and its commander, Lt. Col. Marshall, moved them to strengthen their fellow troops on La Difensa. Not lengthy after they began alongside the route they have been noticed by alert German observers, who fell again on their confirmed tactic of marking the Allied place with tracer rounds. The luminescent bullets have been quickly adopted by a heavy barrage of cannon hearth that final 20 minutes. In that temporary time, the regiment’s power was decreased by 40 %—a horrible variety of casualties. The rest shortly regrouped, nevertheless, and moved up the path to hitch their comrades.
At daybreak on December four, the state of affairs was nonetheless removed from clear. There have been studies of robust German positions south of Remetanea, and Frederick nonetheless nervous a few counterattack. He determined to postpone his assault one other day, till daybreak on the fifth. All through the day extra patrols went out; typically the first SSF males coming down the slope from La Difensa met German patrols arising from Remetanea.
It was foggy, and the rain continued; typically the mist would clear out of the blue, exposing males to snipers. Males shot at one another by means of the fog; if it cleared, all would take cowl and look forward to the patrol chief to determine whether or not to assault or disengage. Correct mortar hearth made the state of affairs even worse. A German specialty was a six-round volley with an adjustment afterward. Main Ed Thomas, who had taken command of the first Battalion after MacWilliam was killed, turned a casualty when he jumped right into a foxhole throughout a bombardment and landed on a soldier’s bayonet; Main Walter Grey assumed command.
Within the afternoon a pair of prisoners was introduced in by a patrol. In return for a couple of packing containers of Okay-rations, these POWs revealed an impending counterattack deliberate for three the subsequent morning. A close-by artillery observer confirmed the knowledge when he noticed about 400 Germans gathering close by. Artillery was referred to as in to interrupt up the focus, and the lads on the entrance strains have been informed to remain alert all through the night time.
A small consolation was gained when the prisoners additionally revealed the Germans have been in a poor state of provide as nicely. The rain was flooding their routes, and lots of of their mules had been misplaced to Allied artillery hearth. Ultimately the rain ceased however it was one other chilly night time on the mountain, bolstered solely by the few sips of whiskey every man acquired, compliments of Colonel Frederick. The anticipated enemy assault by no means got here.
The subsequent morning, the first SSF’s assault was once more delayed, however a trio of patrols went out to realize extra info within the hopes the assault might proceed that afternoon. One patrol sought to seek out the enemy on Monte Remetanea however discovered no exercise. The second pushed out towards the 142nd Infantry, however no contact was made with them or the enemy. The final patrol likewise went to seek out the British 169th Brigade however couldn’t make contact both. Regardless of not with the ability to discover the flanking models, Frederick was inspired that the enemy had not been contacted both, and so he ready to assault.
At 1 pm,Main Grey moved out with all three corporations of 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment, bolstered by one firm from third Regiment. They moved on Remetanea, the majority of the troops alongside the northern slope of the ridge with patrols utilizing the southern slope. The patrols quickly got here beneath mortar and machine-gun hearth, which quickly unfold to the whole attacking pressure, inflicting it to cease midway to the target and dig in. Extra patrols went out whereas a lot of the troops waited till darkish.
Moore’s 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment, strengthened by an organization from 1st Regiment, moved towards the saddle between Monte Camino and La Difensa at about four:30 pm, hoping to crack the German defenses there. Underneath cowl of smoke, the fifth Firm, beneath a Captain Hubbard, led the assault.
Once they approached the primary of the German positions at a pair of knobs they referred to as “warts,” the Germans opened hearth. The 1st SSF males lacked cowl and had no selection however to push on or be destroyed by mortar hearth. They reached the enemy bunkers and dropped grenades into the firing embrasures. Lieutenant Wayne Boyce, main the first Platoon of fifth Firm, led his males to flank the enemy on three sides, drawing their full consideration in a battle for survival. The primary wart was quickly in Allied arms.
Boyce regrouped his platoon and led them on an assault on the second wart. He was hit throughout this assault however stayed within the battle, refusing to cease or be evacuated. The lieutenant leapt right into a German machine-gun nest, utilizing his knife to kill a number of Germans till he was caught by a burst from a submachine gun. Nonetheless, he stayed answerable for his males regardless of critical wounds. Earlier than lengthy the second wart was of their arms, however tragically Boyce died simply as his males accomplished the duty.
The 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment occupied the warts and dug in for the night time. Extra reinforcements got here up, however the night time handed and not using a German counterattack. A few of the males have been capable of watch the British artillery pounding a German-occupied monastery on close by Hill 963.
The subsequent morning at 10, the first Battalion, led by Main Grey, attacked Monte Remetanea. They took the now ubiquitous machine-gun and mortar hearth from close by hills, however there was little direct opposition. The Germans have been retreating and had left solely a token pressure as a rear guard. The first SSF’s assault got here so shortly that it took many Germans unexpectedly, particularly a bivouac space the place the enemy nonetheless had tents pitched.
A variety of Germans have been killed once they got here operating out of their tents, firing wildly. Many extra have been captured; one 1st SSF captain personally took 19 prisoners. By midday Monte Remetanea was finally in Allied arms.
With that goal secured, the unit pushed down towards the valley under, realizing that the enemy was in retreat. Frederick needed to capitalize on the state of affairs however knew his males have been affected by exhaustion and the chilly climate. Snipers have been nonetheless an issue, and the lads observed each time they have been utilizing their radios German mortar hearth quickly fell on the radio’s location.
Frederick noticed a gaggle of Germans arising a draw southwest on Monte Camino, and he informed the 36th Division commander that, until the British might take Camino by dusk, he ought to let the first SSF assault it as an alternative. No such order got here, and the lads dug in for an additional night time, enduring extra sniper and mortar hearth and awaiting a counterattack that fortunately by no means got here.
Lastly, on the morning of December 7, the Pressure males linked up with British patrols on their flank. A near-tragedy occurred when a British patrol fired on some 1st SSF males in a dense fog. The state of affairs was cleared up earlier than anybody was hit. One other British patrol arrived on the 2nd Regiment headquarters and was stunned by what number of majors and colonels have been current on the entrance strains. Lt. Col. Williamson advised them that the unit believed leaders ought to lead from the entrance—in order that’s the place they have been.
The battle was winding down, however there was nonetheless preventing to be achieved. A platoon-sized patrol from 1st Battalion, 2nd Regiment was despatched to hyperlink up with the British. It as an alternative got here throughout a robust enemy place defended by 50 Germans. The patrol chief realized he was unwell outfitted to tackle such a big drive of well-armed enemy and correctly pulled again.
Elsewhere, 1st SSF males hunted for the few remaining snipers who nonetheless plagued them; a lot of the snipers have been lone troopers reduce off from their comrades. Different Pressure males struggled to deliver the final of the wounded down the mountain.
Overhead, the climate cleared and Military Air Forces transports tried to drop further provides, however most fell out of attain. The subsequent day, December Eight, Main Grey despatched his complete battalion to take out the German outpost his patrol had discovered the day earlier than. Loads of artillery was laid on, and the clear climate aided in coordinating the assault.
The first SSF males superior underneath the duvet of a rolling barrage. Absolutely half the German drive was killed, and 7 have been captured. It was the final preventing the first SSF would do on the mountain. The German troops have been discovered to be a part of the Hermann Göring Division, despatched in to bolster the rear guard.
That night time two battalions of the 142nd Infantry arrived to take over the Monte La Difensa space. The first SSF was relieved and slowly made its approach again down the mountain. Later, in daylight, some have been amazed to take a look at the terrain that they had climbed and attacked by way of.
Their replacements have been equally amazed on the state of the lads; many stared on the bloody, filthy, exhausted males who had completed in a couple of days what the common squaddies had been unable to in weeks. The subsequent day, they boarded vans for a journey again to the place that they had began, the barracks at Santa Maria.
On December 10, Colonel Frederick acquired a pair of messages. The primary was from the II Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes. It acknowledged the troublesome circumstances underneath which the unit fought and congratulated them on a mission nicely completed. The second message was from Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, commanding the Fifth Military. It additional famous the problem of creating a profitable night time assault in mountainous terrain towards a tenacious enemy. Clark additionally praised the first SSF for doing so properly in its first fight motion.
In six days of fight, the unit had suffered about 25 % casualties, together with 73 lifeless, 9 lacking, 313 wounded, and 116 affected by exhaustion. The casualty lists confirmed the dreadful causes: gunshots, mortar fragments, grenade lacerations, concussions, and fractures, even amputations. It was withdrawn from the road for 11 days of relaxation and reconstitution.
Afterward, the first SSF went again into the struggle, tasked with taking extra mountaintops that different models had been unable to grab. On one among them, Monte Majo, Marshall’s 1st Regiment ran so low on ammunition that it had to make use of captured weapons. Regardless of this, it repulsed greater than 40 counterattacks.
In February 1944, the unit was despatched into the Anzio beachhead, the Allied try and outflank the Winter Line and expose Rome to seize. There, remnants of the decimated Darby’s Rangers have been despatched to the first SSF as replacements. The unit held a spot within the line and took half in main the eventual breakout in Might.
Later that summer time, the first SSF can be included into the First Airborne Activity Drive for the invasion of Southern France. Afterward, nevertheless, the unit, which had completed so many arduous missions at lengthy odds, was merely disbanded. It was a standard destiny for a lot of such models in the course of the warfare. Many senior leaders lacked familiarity with comparatively small, specialised organizations that didn’t simply match into a standard order of battle.
In its comparatively brief life, the first Particular Service Pressure proved what a well-trained, motivated and disciplined group of troopers might accomplish once they have been nicely led and given duties inside their broad capabilities. Frederick was, in time, promoted to main basic and later commanded the 45th Infantry Division. He was one of many youngest generals of the struggle, retiring in 1952.
The exploits of the first SSF can be celebrated within the 1968 struggle film The Satan’s Brigade, starring William Holden as Colonel Frederick. A lot of books have additionally been written on the unit, and an internet site honoring the first SSF males (www.firstspecialserviceforce.internet) is filled with private pictures of the lads and the places they served in. Each the modern-day Canadian and American Particular Forces draw necessary elements of their heritage from the first SSF, which each nonetheless honor right now.