With The 92nd Infantry Division (Reconstituted)

With The 92nd Infantry Division (Reconstituted)

In the North Apennines and Po Valley Campaigns – Italy – Sept. 44 to May 45

Maj. Gen. EDWARD M. ALMONDS, Commanding.

The 100th of the 442nd RCT commanded by Col. Virgil R. Miller returned from France with the entire Rgt. on 23 Mar. 45 and was placed under the operational control of the 92nd Inf. Div. The arrival of the 442nd RCT at the Port of Leghorn was accomplished in secrecy, and the men remained in the assembly area (plaza) to avoid detection. Gen. Mark Clark visiting the RCT at the Port of Leghorn was accomplished in secrecy, and the men remained in the assembly area Italy, and gave the 442nd RCT his stamp of approval.

The 92nd Div’s pattern of operation seemed to be firmly fixed at the end of Feb. 45. In a tranquil situation, the troops performed effectively. Patrolling was excellent, the work of the artillery and other supporting troops was reliable, and for the most part, assigned missions were accomplished. But efforts were abortive where offensive action was necessary; and commanders and staffs at all levels of command began to feel that the division, as constituted, could not be assigned an extended offensive mission. Therefore, plans completed to reconstitute the entire 92nd Div. was one dominant factor for the recall of the 442nd RCT from Southern France. This all-negro Div. had been activated at Fort McClellan, Alabama on 15 Oct. 42 and sent overseas to Italy, Aug. 44.

As reconstituted, the 92nd Div. had the 370th Rgt. comprised of all the best Ems, Noncoms and Offs the Div. had originally compressed into this Rgt. The other Rgts. deployed to other units after their holding action, to be relieved by the new replacement Rets. As reconstituted, the 473rd Rgt. became one of the two new Rgts. composed of men who were sometimes referred to as ‘FLAKFEET,” but who were all veterans of the 434th, 435th, 532nd, and 900th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalions, and the 2nd Armored Group Headquarters, which was the nucleus of Task Force 45. The other Rgt. was the 442nd RCT, an integral part of the 92nd Div. reconstituted.

At noon on 3 Apr., FO 10 was issued by HQ 92nd Inf. Div. Those who had time to look around might have noticed that the olive trees were green again. The warm weather had made the back roads and trails soft with mud. The Serchio, the Serra, and Frigido rivers were swelling in their banks as the awakened mountain streams raced down through the hills. In front of them stretched the German Gothic line, its last remaining major line of defense. Against this line 92nd Div’s Operation Second Wind was launched.

The reinforced 442nd Inf. was to seize the dominating terrain around Mount Altissimo, drive towards Carrara, and then cut off the heavily defended plain. It was to move into line on the right of the 370th Inf., strike through the mountains overlooking the coastal plain, bypass Massa, and seize Mount Brugiana, almost due north of the city. The rocky ridges ranged from 1500 to 3000 feet in height, and were guarded by precipitous slopes and ravines.

The 442nd Inf. moved its Bns., up from San Martino. After detrucking at Pietrasanta, the 100th Bn. marched to an assembly area at Vallecchia and later to its line of departure on Mount Cauala. The 3rd Bn. marched across 8 miles of hilly terrain to Azzano, then on the following night, after a dangerous and exhausting climb, to its line of departure on the side of Mount Folgorito.

The 442nd Inf. attacked on Thursday morning, 5 Apr., simultaneously with the 370th Inf. on its left. After four days of difficult action over jagged terrain, the Rgt. reached the heights that dominate Massa and pushed on to encircle the city.

The 3rd and 100th Bns moved to forward assembly areas after dark on the evening of Apr. 3. The 100th established itself near Vallecchia, and the 3rd Bn. moved to Azzano after a five-hour climb with light equipment that included field jackets and light packs. Light mgs replaced the heavy ones. Only a few 60 mm mortars were carried, and all Bn. reserves and support elements carried extra mortar ammunitions.

Azzano was separated from Mount Folgorito by a narrow valley, and was under full observation of the enemy. The trail was so treacherous that twenty-five men fell from it on the way and became casualties. The Bn. remained hidden in houses and olive groves near Azzano throughout 4 Apr.

On Wed. night (4th) the 100th moved up to the line of departure on Florida Hill, and relieved elements of the 371st Inf. Cannon Co. of the 442nd Inf. moved into position at Vallecchia and tied into the fire direction center of the 599th Fd. Arty. Bn. to be available as an extra btry. Because the guns of the antitank company could not be used effectively in the mountains, the men were used as additional carrying parties and litter squads.

At 2200 4 Apr., the night before the offensive began, Cos. I and L, and the MG Plat, of Co. M, 3rd Bn. moved into the valley from Azzano. Here they began the five-hour climb to the saddle 3000 feet high, between Mount Folgorito and Mount Carchio, from where the attack was to begin. At Azzano, an Italian indicated that the trail which had been selected by a map recon was covered by a German mg that was one of a pair. He indicated another trail that was to lead to a point between the two guns, and volunteered to serve as a guide. The terrain was so treacherous, that it was necessary to establish twelve litter relay points between the top and the bottom to handle evacuation. The men crawled on their hands and knees, pulling themselves up by the shrubs. By 0530, a half-hour behind schedule they had worked their way to the top and to the line of departure. At the head of the trail over which they had been led by the Italian guide, there was a German mg loaded, ready to fire and pointed down the slope in the direction of the advancing troops. But there wasn’t a German in sight. Twelve Germans were asleep in a dugout not too far away.

While the 3rd Bn. was enveloping the enemy from the rear, the 100th began its push on the front. A shattering concentration of arty fire preceded the attack at 0500 as the troops moved out alongside the 370th Inf. in the lower hills on the left: The objective was Georgia Peak where an enemy company occupied emplacements. Georgia Peak is a bald mass, with a flat top. Its east side is perpendicular and its west side slopes. A field of schu mines covered the approaches. While Co. B and the MG Plat, of Co. D provided base of fire, Co. A filled with many inexperienced replacements advanced about 150 yards toward its objective. A mine exploded and as the men scrambled for cover, seven more mines went off and the enemy machine gunners became active. The attack came to a standstill.

A squad of the leading platoon was sent around the enemy’s left flank toward an enemy mg emplacement. Their advance was halted when the squad leader was wounded by a grenade. S/Sgt. Henry Y. Arao, the leading scout dressed his squad leader’s wounds and tried to reorganize the squad, but the men hugged the ground and refused to move. Arao crawled toward one of the mg emplacements alone. After throwing a grenade at the gun crew, he charged the position, firing his gun as he ran. After killing the gunner with his tommy gun, he forced the assistant gunner to surrender. At the same time, another mg began to fire. Arao crawled toward it, and with another grenade, he killed the crew. The remaining enemy soldiers in the vicinity took cover in a bombproof dugout, and opened the way for the advance of the platoon. Arao was awarded the DSC for this action.

In the same action, Pfc. Sadao S. Munemori, an assistant squad leader of Co. A lost his life in heroic action that contributed to the success of Co. A. . . . “When the unit was pinned down by the enemy’s grazing fire and his squad leader was wounded, command of the squad became his. He made frontal one-man attacks through direct fire and knocked out two mgs with grenades. Withdrawing under murderous fire and showers of grenades from other enemy emplacements, he had nearly reached a shell crater occupied by two of his men when an unexploded grenade bounced off his helmet and rolled toward his helpless comrades. He rose into the withering fire, dived for the grenade, and smothered the blast with his own body. By his swift, supremely heroic action, Pfc. Munemori saved two of his men at the cost of his life and did much to clear the path for his company’s advance!” He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, his country’s highest decoration.

Co. A reached the crest of Georgia peak thirty-two minutes after the initial attack started. Then, as it moved down the slope of Georgia to attack the first of three Ohio peaks, concentrations of enemy mortar and arty fire blended with the fire from mgs to greet them. In addition, the enemy used “potato mashers” (fragmentation grenades) and “egg” (concussion) grenades. Six and eight grenades could be seen in the air at one time.

An attempt by Co. C to maneuver to the left flank of Co. A was stopped by enemy fire, and there were heavy losses in the Co. The advancing troops had to filter through enemy fire to move at all. Bunkers had to be approached and destroyed singly, and the battle wore on all day long. At about midnight, the enemy counterattacked in platoon strength, and there was a close range fight for a full hour.

The 100th Bn. made only slight gains after two hours of struggle on Fri. 6 Apr. To assist the Bn., four P-47’s (Thunderbolts) bombed the enemy positions. Air-ground coordination was perfect. A 10-min. arty barrage followed the air strike, and the 100th moved in on the stunned enemy. Resistance was eliminated quickly, and all three of the Ohio peaks were taken around noon.

The 100th mopped up its areas and improved positions. Co. C consolidated its position on Mount Cerreta. Co. A took up defensive positions on Ohio peaks. Co. B remained on “rocky ridge,” then a patrol from Co. B moved into the valley west of the ridge and occupied Strettoia without opposition.

The entry into Massa was like a triumphant march. Italian partisans armed with machine pistols swarmed through the streets of the city that was once famous for its marble works and sculpture; and civilians greeted the soldiers with bouquets of roses, lilacs and lilies. Less than two-thirds of Massa’s population had remained in the city.

The enemy withdrew from one prepared position to another setting the pace more or less, and covering its withdrawal with the fire from the naval guns on Punta Bianco.

THE ADVANCE TO AULLA. In front of the 442nd where the Frigido River was narrow and shallow, the enemy offered only scattered resistance. This was in marked contrast to the resistance that was met by the 473rd as it pushed across the wide portion of the river near the coast. The 442nd moved forward along the foothills about 3,000 yds. to gain positions on the 3,000-foot Mount Brugiana. From here they could look down on Carrara, the famous marble mining center, from the east. The 100th moved north to protect the Rgt’s eastern flank. On the 12th, elements of the 100th made an eight-hour march over a mountain trail to occupy Colonnata and the southern tip of La Bandita Ridge in the right of the Rgtl zone.

The 100th followed the 2nd Bn. at a distance of 2,500 yds. and it too was caught in the enemy barrage as it entered Gragnana. The men took cover for 6 hours in houses along the road. Enemy artillery harassed the Carrara area too, and the 3rd Bn. and the Rgtl CP were pounded all day.

During the night of the 13th, Co. B marched to reinforce the Command Group of the 2nd Bn. Castelpoggio was very vulnerable to attack from the left flank, in the direction of Ft. Bastione. The Co. took up positions with one plat, facing north and one facing west. This reinforcement was timely, for a German Bn. (1st Bn. 361st Panzer Grenadier Rgt.) moved into the outskirts of Castelpoggio under the cover of a predawn fog the next morning. Descending from the north, the Germans skirted a cemetery along the road, and moved to within 50 yards of the outposts. As soon as they were discovered, they were taken under fire by Co. B, supported by the mortars from Co. H. The enemy company commander was killed and his forces were scattered. After a fire fight that lasted for about half an hour, the attackers were forced to withdraw towards Ft. Bastione. Here they came under the fire from the 442nd troops in the town. The withdrawal was dissipated, and many of the enemy were captured when they ran into the lines of Cos. F and G. An effort to escape under the protection of Red Cross flags was discovered, and fire was resumed. About 34 of the enemy were killed, 150 captured, and many were wounded. Five of the 442nd were killed and 5 were wounded during the operation.

The enemy continued to resist as Co. B resumed its attack against Mount Pizzaculo. Artillery and mortar support were available now that the enemy batteries had been silenced, so that by 1000 hours the company had gained its objective and had captured 54 prisoners.

New orders directed the 100th to seize Mount Musatello and then to swing right at Villa and cut Highway No. 62 and Highway No. 63. The 2nd Bn. was to follow the 100th to Villa and then swing west to Aulla. The 100th met a determined enemy as it attacked. The 3rd Bn. pressed against Mount Nebbione without success; and the 2nd Bn. spent most of its time getting into position to follow the 100th to Villa. After delays because of poor visibility, Co. E reached the summit of Mount Musatello and found the Germans in fortified positions on the reverse slope. A solid defensive line across the mountainside had mgs, automatic weapons and other small arms weapons. 1st Lt. Daniel K. Inouye led his troops in the successful attack of Mt. Mussatello.

“He first led his platoon in a rapid encirclement that resulted in the destruction of a German mortar observation post and brought his men to within forty yards of the main hostile force. The enemy, dug into bunkers and rock crevices, fought back fanatically, halting and advancing with cross-fire from three machine guns which swept an area devoid of cover and concealment. Lt. Inouye crawled up the slope to within five yards of the nearest gun and tossed two hand grenades into the nest. Before the enemy recovered, he stood up and raked the second gun with fire from his tommy gun, killing the crew. He was hit once, but he continued to fire at other emplacements until his arm was shattered by a grenade. In spite of his pain, he refused evacuation and directed the final assault which carried the ridge.” In the attack, 25 Germans were killed and 8 others captured. Lt. Inouye received the DSC.

By 23 Apr., the Germans had left only a covering force in front of the Rgt. The 442nd broke through this thin shell quickly. Near San Stefano, a task force composed of Cos. B and F, and a tank detachment (Task Force FUKUDA) moved out to capture Aulla. By noon of the 24th it had occupied Mt. Grosse, south of the objective, without meeting any resistance. The 2nd Bn. met no resistance either as it moved on Aulla with Cos. E and F.

On the drive to Aulla, by 3030 of the 20th, Co. B with Co. A behind it, reached Poggio, 3 1/2 miles north of Castelnuovo. From here it began to move forward; and half a mile north of Camporgiano the Co. met an enemy ambush. Several mules were killed and others dispersed, but the enemy was overcome and the pursuit continued.

Gen. Almonds during 22-23 April ordered the 442nd to push on to the west to seize Genoa following as rapidly as possible the 473rd RCT, protecting the northeast flank of the division zone of advance. The 370th was to drive north up Highway No. 62 and Highway No. 63 to the Cisa and Ceretta passes. These were the funnels through which the enemy had to pass on the way to the Po Valley.

THE FINAL THRUST. The 442nd and the 473rd RCT were to speed up Highway No. 1, while the 370th Inf. was to advance north on Highways No. 62 and 63 to squeeze the enemy from the rear while they were being threatened from the north by the Brazilians and the U.S. 34th Div.

PURSUIT TO GENOA. Brig. Gen. Donald W. Brann, G-3 of 15th Army Group met Gen. Almonds in Carrara, just before the 473rd RCT began its advance to Genoa at dawn on Apr. 25. Gen. Brann authorized the advance towards Genoa, and Gen. Almonds made him a wager that the advance of over fifty miles would take less than four days.

At 0745 on 27 Apr., the I & R Plat, entered Genoa; then at 0930 Col. Yarborough entered with the 2n Bn; with the 1st Bn. following shortly thereafter. The troops boarded streetcars and rode to the western part of town. The advance was completed in less than three days, and Gen. Almonds won his wager with Gen. Brann. The 442nd followed the lead of the 473rd and also used the streetcars to transport its men across town.

Small pockets of the enemy still held out in the port area and in scattered, isolated groups near Genoa. But it was not long before they laid down their arms. A garrison of 700 Germans, west of the harbor entrance, surrendered in the afternoon; 259 Germans, at the east end of the entrance to the harbor, surrendered shortly thereafter. On Apr. 24th, the 442nd’s 100th was resting near Carrara, the 2nd Bn. moved toward Aulla without meeting enemy resistance, and the 3rd Bn. reverted to division reserve.

Aulla fell on the 25th as the 2nd Bn. drove in from the east and a special task force (FUKUDA), composed of Cos. B & F drove in from the northeast after making a 10-mile forced march through the mountains. The men had moved to the last high ridge in front of Aulla, and from there they could see the enemy retreating en masse. The roads were filled with men, trucks, and wagons drawn by mules. Cannon Co. and its supporting artillery took the retreating enemy under fire and the road became littered with dead men, overturned carts, incapacitated trucks and disemboweled mules. The 100th Bn., still near Carrara, was alerted and preparations were made for the pursuit to Genoa.

The 100th Bn. was to seize Busalla and close the pass to Isola del Cantone. The Bn. advanced to the northwest and reached Busalla in the mountain pass which led from Genoa to the Po. Isola del Cantone was outposted with tanks and infantry.

On Apr. 29 Mussolini was executed by Italian patriots in Milan; and his body, along with bodies of his late mistress, Clara Petacci and some of his henchmen, was being shown to the public in Milan’s Piazza Loreto.

On May 2 representatives of Lt. Gen. Heinrich Von Vietinghoff, Commander in Chief of the German Army Group Southwest, signed terms of unconditional surrender in Caserta. This marked the beginning of the capitulation of the Third Reich. Four days later, on the sixth, the unconditional surrender was signed in a ‘little red school house’ at Rheims, France. Hostilities ceased officially at 11:01 PM on May 7 (V-E Day).

On May 14 the 442nd RCT was detached from the 92 Inf. Div. after having added a new list of achievements to the already swollen record. Almost 100 men had died, and 513 men were wounded while the Rgt. was attached to the 92nd.

On 6 Aug. 45, the first atomic bomb ever used was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. This was followed by a second bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9 and Japan surrendered on the 14th (V-J Day). Everywhere now anxiety about redeployment to the Pacific disappeared. World War II was over.

On 28 Nov. 1945, three years and one month after it had been activated, the 92nd Inf. Div. was inactivated officially at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Its members went their respective ways; each with his own memories, his hopes, and his uncertainties for the future.

AND SO — the 92ND INF. DIV. did achieve: A FRAGMENT OF VICTORY (Paul Goodman; Maj. Artillery; War College Staff & Faculty) with tremendous help from the 100th. — Ah, memories!