Setting the Stage

The 100th Infantry Battalion arrived in Oran, Algeria, on September 2, 1943. It had been 15 months since it left Hawaii for training on the U.S. mainland, but the 100th was still an “orphan” unit, unattached to a larger fighting force.

In Oran, Lieutenant Colonel Farrant L. Turner was given the option of having the battalion assigned to guard rail lines and supply depots in North Africa. Turner refused. He knew his soldiers wanted to prove themselves in combat.

When Colonel Turner and Major James Lovell, the battalion’s executive officer, returned from meetings at headquarters, the men of the 100th learned that they were being attached to the 133rd Regiment, 34th Division, commanded by Major General Charles W. Ryder. Nicknamed the “Red Bulls” and inspired by its motto, “Attack, Attack, Attack,” the 34th had a proud military history going back to the Civil War. It was the first American unit to arrive in Europe after the United States entered the war and it had already lost a third of its division strength fighting the Germans in North Africa. The 100th’s job was to reinforce the 34th.

After learning about German tactics and receiving land mine training, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 34th Division sailed together for Italy on September 19.

Although Italy had surrendered on September 8, German forces continued to occupy strategic locations on the Italian peninsula, remaining entrenched on moountains overlooking key valleys and roads. Their engineers had built strong defenses, using the mountainous terrain to their advantage. The major objectives of the Allied forces, led by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s 5th Army, were to push north, capture Rome and defeat the German forces in Italy. But the rocky terrain, snow, mud, rain and freezing cold were constant obstacles and often made the deployment of heavy artillery impossible, costing the men vital support. Deadly land mines and booby traps were strewn across the landscape. These conditions resulted in limited food and supplies and timely medical assistance for the wounded. The men from Hawaii additionally suffered from the lack of warm clothing — the Quartermaster Corp was still having difficulties finding clothing and boots small enough for the Nisei soldiers.