Document Source: Infantry School, General Section, Military History Committee, Fort Benning, Georgia, Advanced Officers Course (1946-1947). Defensive Operation of the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division along the Moletta River Line, Northwest of Anzio, Italy, February 7 to February 8, 1944. Personal Experience of a Heavy Weapons Company Commander, Capt James D. Shi Jr.
In order that a complete orientation is given to the reader, certain facts and events that influenced the action must be depicted. The reasons for the Anzio landings should be clarified so as to leave no doubt as to the necessity for taking this calculated risk involving large numbers of men and great quantities of material. During the winter of 1944-1945, the Allies in Italy were slowly smashing their way through rugged mountain obstacles on the roads to Rome. Since the Allied invasion of Southern Italy, the Germans had fought a delaying action in order to prepare a series of defensive lines farther to the rear. The main defensive barrier guarding the approaches to Rome was the Gustav Line, extending across the Italian Peninsula from Minturno to Ortona. This defensive line was most formidable; the enemy engineers had reinforced the natural mountain defenses with, an elaborate network of pillboxes, bunkers, and minefields. The Germans had also reorganized their forces to resist the Allied advance, and Hitler was determined to gain the prestige of holding the Allies south of Rome.
Opposing the Germans was the Allied 15-AG, with the 5-A attacking the western and the British 8-A on the eastern sectors of the front. In mid-December, men of the 5-A were fighting their way through the forward enemy defenses, which became known as the Winter Line. Braving the mud, rain, and cold of an unusually bad Italian winter, scrambling up precipitous mountain slopes that only mules or human pack trains could traverse, the Allied forces struggled to penetrate the German defenses. By early January 1944, the 5-A troops had broken through the Winter Line and had occupied the heights above the Garigliano River and the Rapido River, from which they could look across to Monte Cassino, with Highway 6 curving around its base into the Liri Valley. Before they were the main ramparts of the Gustav Line, guarding this natural corridor to Rome. The Gustav Line was an even more formidable barrier than the Winter Line, because of the snow-capped peaks flanking the Liri Valley and the rain-swollen Garigliano River and the Rapido River. Unless some strategy could be devised to turn the defenses of the Gustav Line, the 5-A faced another long campaign of mountain fighting.
The strategy decided upon by the Allied leaders, was an amphibious landing on the west coast of Italy, behind enemy lines. This plan, which was to be executed by a single division, was abandoned on December 20, 1943, the date set for the proposed landing. Because of the tenacious German opposition and difficult terrain, the British 8-A and the American 5-A in the Winter Line Campaign could not reach, their assigned objectives. This situation, together with the lack of available landing craft, made the plan for an immediate amphibious end-run impracticable. The continued slow progress of the Allied advance caused the revival of the plan for an amphibious operation south of Rome along the lines as previously contemplated. Originally planned as a subsidiary operation on the left flank of an advancing US 5-A. It developed into a major operation far in the enemy rear when the main 5-A troops failed to crack the mountain defenses in the south.
This landing was intended to cut the German communications and break the flank of the Gustav Line. Furthermore, it was believed that the Germans would move a part of their reserves to halt the new landings, and thereby imperil the Main Line of Resistance in the south. The US VI Corps, selected to make the landing, consisted of British as well as American forces. The assault force shipped out of Naples was virtually unopposed when it landed on January 22, 1944, in the vicinity of Anzio and Nettuno. Due to the limited number of landing craft available, a three-day turnaround was required to bring in reinforcements. The enemy made every effort to rush troops to this area and, aided by the bad weather which interfered with Allied air attacks on his communications, he was able to move units from the Gustav Line, from the Balkans, and from France. Within the first two weeks, the Germans had dispatched enough reinforcements to the beachhead to match the Allied strength. The Allied Commanders decided to hold their present positions and prepare for the defense of the new beachhead.
In the first week that the US 45-ID had been on the Anzio Beachhead (this division had landed as reinforcements), the troops had relaxed somewhat, having just left the scene of strenuous and hazardous combat in the snowy mountains above Venafro, just east of Cassino. As the American lines were extended and consolidated on the perimeter of the new beachhead, the men were astounded at the silence, which was only occasionally disrupted by sporadic small arms fire or the crash of an artillery shell. However, this silence was misleading and actually became ominous. This silence gave no warning of the hell that was to be Anzio. The lonely stretch of the Italian Coast looked gaunt and uninviting to all men.
The enemy had prepared few defenses in this sector, they had not progressed beyond the usual hasty field fortifications, trenches, some barbed-wire roadblocks, and a few minefields. The infantry troops organized and prepared defensive positions about the consolidated beachhead perimeter, for it was established by air recon that the Germans were rapidly bringing in reserves to oppose any advance in the direction of Rome. Although the Germans devoted the first days of February 1944 chiefly to defensive measures, it became more and more evident that supplies and reinforcements were being built up for a major counter-offensive. German artillery fire increased in intensity, and enemy patrols probed the forward lines. Higher headquarters realized that the Germans were massing for an attack, but had no idea from which direction it would come. The enemy now had numerical superiority, and from limited vantage points, forward observers could watch German tanks trundling out of the mountains to move into combat positions beyond normal artillery range.
At the beginning of February 1944, the German XIV Army was preparing to strike. Hitler had personally ordered that the abscess below home be removed, whatever the cost. Having stopped the Allied drive toward Cisterna and Campoleone, the Germans renewed their preparations for an all-out offensive against the Anzio Beachhead. For the first two weeks of February, while these preparations were underway, the Germans believed that the US VI Corps might again attack to break out of the beachhead. The German attacks of early February were designed to pave the way for the enemy’s main offensive, and, by maintaining constant pressure on the VI Corps, prevent the Allies from reorganizing for a new drive out of the beachhead. The following extract, in part, from the Journal of the German XIV Army explains the reason for the attack on the Moletta River Line. The XIV Army has planned attacks with limited objectives, to suit various situations as they arise. Then the enemy is weakened by these attacks, an all-out counter-offensive will be launched. On February 5, 1944, the US 45-ID less the 157th Infantry reverted to the VI Corps reserve and occupied breakthrough, positions in the center of the beachhead perimeter.
The 157-IR was defending the west or the coastal sector of the beachhead. The British 2nd North Staffordshire Regiment was in position on the right of the 157-IR, astride the main road leading south into the harbor of Anzio. The hub of enemy activity in the coastal sector was the area surrounding the factory at Aprilia, situated on the southern edge of the town of Carroceto. Virtually a no man’s land, the factory could neither be claimed by the Germans nor the British, who held positions in the south of it. The enemy launched a tank attack against the British but the Tommies stopped the assault with artillery fire. However, the Germans continued to press their advantage throughout the night of February 5/6, 1944. The factory area at Aprilia consisted of many buildings which were located on a slight rise of ground and stood like a fortress dominating the surrounding countryside.
The hamlet of Carroceto located 500 yards southwest of the factory and just north of the overpass which crosses the Albano road and the parallel railway, together with the factory represented important enemy objectives. The capture of the factory and Carroceto was the next logical move for the enemy as he planned an all-out effort along the axis of the Albano Road. With these two objectives in enemy hands, strikes could be made in several different directions into the final beachhead line of defense. A network of roads, with the focal points at the factory and Carroceto, would permit the enemy a tactical advantage to the south and southeast. The enemy plan of attack called for a simultaneous assault on the night of February 7/8, 1944, by the 65.Infantry-Division from the west, and by Kampfgruppe Graeser (Task Force) from the east, converging on the factory and Carroceto.
Meanwhile, in the 157-IR sector, the front remained relatively quiet. During the early hours of darkness on the night of February 3/4, 1944, the 3/157, relieved the 2/157 and was in a position to the west or left of the British 2nd North Staffordshire Regiment. While checking the newly assumed positions, members of the 3/157 discovered that the enemy was only forty to fifty yards across intervening wadis or gulches. It was also learned from the 2/157 that it was practically impossible to capture a German as a source of information, even though they were within calling distance of each other. The 3/157 was now responsible for a frontage of approximately 2400 yards with Love Co in position on the right and in contact with the adjacent British unit, there was then a gap of 200 yards in the center between Love Co and Item Co, which protected the left portion of the battalion sector. Item Co had one rifle platoon in position to the extreme left, separated from the main company position by a gap of 250 yards. This platoon was reinforced with a section of heavy machine guns and a section of 81-MM mortars from Mike Co and maintained contact with the 2/157, 1000 yards to the left. This gap between the two battalions was heavily wooded and the few men defending it furnished adequate protection against a breakthrough.
King Co was in support, in the center, about 300 yards to the rear or south of the gap between Love and Item Cos. In addition to the heavy weapons with the platoon of Item Co, another section of heavy machine guns was in position on the right flank of Item Co. The other platoon of heavy machine guns was supporting Love Co, with one section on each flank of the rifle company. The remaining 81-MM mortars (two sections) were located to support the entire front line of the battalion sector. One section of 81-MM mortars was in a position to the center rear of King Co, whereas the third section was to the right rear of King Co in an abandoned rock quarry. The 3/157 CP was established in a ditch to the right of the quarry, 500 yards in the rear of Love Co. A good dirt road, running from the rear just inside the right flank of the battalion sector, was utilized as the axis of communication, supply, and evacuation. The battalion aid station was at the junction of this north-south road (supply) and the main east-west macadam highway.
After taking over this position, the 3/157 was ordered to initiate plans for a night raid to be executed on the night of February 7/8, 1944, at 0100. As a preliminary preparation for the raid, the battalion was engaged throughout the night of February 6/7, in constructing the strongest fortified position possible under existing conditions and the limitation of time and darkness. Inasmuch as the terrain was flat as a table-top with limited vegetation of small scrubs and weeds, it was necessary to confine the major part of the preparations and movement to the hours of darkness. The newly assumed positions were reconnoitered for better alternate and supplementary firing positions, especially for the automatic weapons of the battalion. Fire plans were checked, minefields and wire entanglements were improved, positions were better consolidated and coordinated, and more adequate communications were established. Additional rations, water, and ammunition were brought onto position as a three-day reserve. Each machine-gun, both light and heavy, had 5000 rounds of ammunition available at each gun position, the 81-MM mortars had 900 rounds total of HE Light, HE Heavy, and White Phosphorus ammunition stored at each mortar emplacement.
Final preparations for the raid were completed during the daylight hours of February 7. Complete and thorough analyses of maps and the terrain were made, the raiding party and its commander were selected and oriented. The commander of the raiding party, the heavy weapons company commander, and the battalion artillery liaison officer made an aerial recon flight in artillery observation planes (L-5) to become more familiar with their missions as outlined for the raid. As darkness closed in for the night, there was a feeling of confidence and optimism among the men that the raid would fulfill its purpose in gaining information as to the intentions of the enemy. It was not suspected that the ensuing several hours would prove a dilemma for all. However, it would be ascertained that the preparations made for the raid would be of great benefit in defending this position.