FIRST SPECIAL SERVICE FORCE - The Final Advance before Gustav Line: Cervaro and Mount Trocchio
Data: 01-02-2004Autore: VARIListe: ARTICLES IN ENGLISHCategorie: Le battaglieTag: #gennaio 1944, cervaro, fssf, monte-trocchio, unità-reparti, usa

FIRST SPECIAL SERVICE FORCE - The Final Advance before Gustav Line: Cervaro and Mount Trocchio

By 8 January, the Germans had lost their best positions for defending the approaches to the Liri Valley and their Gustav Line. The la Chiaia-Porchia-Cedro hill barrier had fallen; further north, II Corps had secured the higher mountain ground above Cervaro. Nevertheless, possibilities for a last line of forward defense were offered by Mount Trocchio and the rough hills at the edge of the mountains near Cervaro. There was every indication that the enemy would continue his stubborn delaying tactics and that II Corps would have to fight all the way to the Rapido River.

Attack orders for the final drive were issued by II Corps on 9 January, with Mount Trocchio as the main objective and the 34th Division still carrying the main weight of the assault. That division planned to strike first at the Cervaro area, clear the enemy from his last foothold on the adjacent mountain slopes, and thus uncover the north flank of Trocchio. The 168th Infantry would attack toward Cervaro from the ridges to the cast. From its vantage ground higher in the mountain, Task Force B would continue westward and clear out the last mountain spurs north of the village. On the left flank, the 135th Infantry was to threaten Cervaro from the south, by an advance from la Chiaia.

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Due to start on 10 January, this coordinated attack required three days to carry through against obstinate resistance.

The 168th planned to use two battalions, the 2d attacking from the Il Gallo spur (Hill 497), the 1st from the next small ridge to the northwest, Hill 552. The 1st Battalion had to fight a sharp engagement to secure its jump-off position. On 9 January, Hill 552 having been reported clear of enemy, Company C started down to occupy it from Hill 820. The Germans had returned to 552, and Company C was forced to make a night assault. Two platoons attacked the spur from the south, another platoon came in from the east across a deep gorge, and the Cannon Company of the 168th gave decisive fire support from the right flank. 1st Lt. James G. Nielson, commanding Company C, had reconnoitered the German positions and was able to direct fire that ranged in fifty yards to the right of the attacking troops and completely neutralized the enemy's fortifications. The assault carried through, taking thirty prisoners and killing twenty Germans. By dawn Company C had Hill 552, but further difficulties arose to delay the 1st Battalion's attack, scheduled for noon. Enemy fire opened unexpectedly from the right flank; higher up the mountainside, some bypassed German positions on Hills 661 and 860 were in a good situation to command the approaches to 552 from the east. It took Company A most of the day to mop up these small nests, killing twenty Germans in the process. This nuisance resistance on its flank prevented the 1st Battalion from moving past Hill 552 toward Cervaro in support of the 2d Battalion of the 168th. Attacking alone, in columns of companies, the 2d Battalion got to within a half mile of Cervaro and dug in for the night.

By morning of 11 January the 168th Infantry was in position for direct assault on Cervaro. Like San Pietro and San Vittore, this little mountain town had been reduced to a mass of rubble and shattered walls, but the wrecked stone houses and cellars gave excellent protection for the enemy, who had organized firing positions to cover all the approaches. The 2d Battalion, 71st Panzer Grenadier Regiment, held this sector, reinforced on the night of 10/11 January by elements of the Hermann Goering Panzer Division.

Before the attack of 11 January our planes bombed and strafed Cervaro, after which artillery took over and covered the area with a heavy barrage. At 1230 the 3d Battalion, 168th Infantry, started a push west from 552 to seize the ridges a half mile north of Cervaro, thus covering the right flank of the main effort and threatening the enemy's rear. Elements of the 1st Battalion were moving west from Hill 552, following the advance of the 3d. When the 2d Battalion jumped off at 1300, driving straight for the town, Mount Trocchio, had been smoked and tanks were in position to give supporting fire from south of the town. The battalion attacked in column of companies under continuous artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire. They reached the corner of Cervaro at dark, while the 3d Battalion gained the slopes overlooking Cervaro from the north as far as Hill 302. During that night the 2d Battalion worked around the northern edges of the village and by dawn was on a small hill at the northwest corner. The Air Observation Post in communication with the 175th and 185th Field Artillery Battalions directed effective fire on enemy troops and vehicles in Cervaro. At 1100 the 2d Battalion launched a final assault from the north and captured the village after two hours' fighting in the ruins. On the northern flank, the 3d Battalion met opposition when it tried to advance further west, but reached Hill 210 at the end of the afternoon of 12 January. Cervaro had been taken, but there was no collapse of enemy resistance. Whether to cover a withdrawal or to attempt a counterattack, elements of the 1st Battalion, 2d Hermann Goering Panzer Grenadier Regiment, came up that night on the road from Cassino, only to stumble into a costly meeting engagement with the 2d and 3d Battalions a few hundred yards west of Cervaro. A battalion volley of artillery fire on the gorge near Le Pastinelle helped to stop the enemy. The next morning, 13 January, the 168th reached the slopes overlooking Le Pastinelle and the Rapido plain. The regiment was only a mile from Mount Trocchio and in position to threaten it from the northeast.

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The 168th Infantry had been helped in its success at Cervaro by supporting attacks both to the north and south. Task Force B had kept pace in the mountain area, attacking west from Hill 1109 and covering the 168th's right flank. In two days' fighting the 100th Battalion and the 1st Battalion of the 133d Infantry gained Mount Capraro on 12 January and began to push the Germans down the last mountain slopes north of the Cassino-Cervaro, road. When Task Force B was broken up on 13 January, its mission completed, the 133d Regimental Combat Team stayed in line on the right flank of the advance threatening Mount Trocchio.

South of Cervaro, the 135th had been aiding the 168th's fight by making a limited attack from Mount la Chiaia toward Le Pastinelle, thus threatening an encirclement of the Cervaro strongpoint. The 2d Battalion of the 135th, making this effort, found a center of enemy resistance at Point 189, where a company of the 2d Hermann Goering Regiment had converted some stone houses into pillboxes. Although Company G of the 135th captured a part of the position on 10 January, the enemy held on tenaciously for three days, preventing a penetration behind his defenses at Cervaro. Finally, on 13 January when the 168th was advancing north and west of Cervaro, the 2d Battalion of the 135th carried the 189 strongpoint.

Always, in fighting out from the Mignano Gap toward Cassino and the Liri Valley, II Corps had seen Mount Trocchio looming ahead of them as the last and most formidable obstacle. Now, by 14 January, our troops had driven the Germans from all their intermediate defenses and were facing Trocchio itself, main objective of the attack that began on 10 January. To capture the enemy's last stronghold in front of the Rapido River, II Corps prepared a blow in great force for 15 January. The 34th Division would direct its main effort against the northern flank of Trocchio, with the 168th Infantry striking through Le Pastinelle on the axis of the Cervaro-Cassino road. Two battalions of the 135th Infantry had Mount Trocchio itself as their assignment. On the left flank, two battalions of the 141st Infantry, 36th Division, which had relieved the 6th Armored Infantry, would take the southwest corner of the hill.

But the enemy for once was ready to yield ground without a fight. Evidently considering Mount Trocchio a hopeless position when its north flank was uncovered, he had withdrawn his main forces across the Rapido. II Corps' attack on 15 January encountered no resistance other than harassing artillery fire; three hours after the start, advance elements were neutralizing booby traps on the crest of Trocchio.

North of II Corps, the French Expeditionary Corps had been equally successful in the mountains, carrying through the work begun by VI Corps. The high peaks had been taken as far north as Mount Acquafondata, and the French advance carried on 16 January to Sant' Elia.

by “The Fifth Army at the Winter Line” - First printed by the Historical Division, War Department, for the American Forces in Action series, 1945.

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