When the point started to move again it was dark. Enemy mortar fire and artillery fire were falling on both sides of the battalion column. Heavy concentrations were falling to the rear of the battalion. Most of the concentrations seemed to be unobserved. About five hundred yards north of the first enemy contact the column halted. A series of footpaths entered the trail and the point was confused. The battalion commander and Capt Willard J. Harrison, Able Co commander, reconnoitered ahead for the correct trail. The battalion S-2 and the S-3, moving up the column, noted the condition of the men. Except for short halts they had been moving since noon and, when the column halted, most of them had stretched out on the trail unmindful of shells that were landing in the adjacent fields. Platoon leaders asked about the situation. Several non-coms in Baker Co were walking up and down, the single file watching for the column ahead of them to move.
As the S-3 reached Capt Duncan a message came from the rear, of the column that an artillery observer was looking for Col Williams. The S-5 sent the messenger back with instructions to have the forward observer come up to Baker Co where he would meet him. As Capt Duncan and the S-3 waited, Capt Duncan commented that the rate of the march was too fast. His men were already tired and if the pace were continued the Germans might have him at a disadvantage in the morning. As the artillery observer came up he was warmly greeted. He identified himself as the battalion’s artillery liaison officer. The whereabouts of the observer who had reported earlier were unknown to him. The liaison officer’s only comment was that he had his radio. He had been to Altavilla twice already and hoped it wouldn’t take a fourth trip. The time was about 2200. The halt had been of some thirty or forty minutes duration when the S-3 started toward the point. Then a message came from Baker Co’s leading platoon that contact had been lost between the 3rd Platoon of Charlie Co and the column in front of it. Capt Duncan and the S-3 moved to the break in the column.
In front of Baker Co’s leading platoon, Capt Duncan and the S-3 found Charlie Co’s executive officer and Charlie Co’s 3rd Platoon leader. Their story was brief. Men had fallen asleep. A man looking up saw that the man who had been before him was no longer there. As he called back, he frantically tried to find the column in front of him with no success. The platoon leader, upon investigating the commotion, had sent out a two-man patrol north on the trail and had reported the break to Charlie Co’s executive officer who was marching at the rear of the Company. As the S-3 awaited word from the contact patrol, a quick check was made of the forces. The 3rd Platoon of Charlie Co was still on the trail; tied in behind it was Baker Co, followed by HQs Co. Ahead somewhere was Able Co and Charlie Co with the battalion commander. Enemy artillery was falling in the vicinity. Behind and to the east enemy machine guns, with their characteristic sound, were firing at something. Baker Co’s radio, an SCR 511, was brought forward and an effort, unsuccessful, was made to contact Col Williams, Able Co, or Charlie Co.
Soon Charlie Co’s contact patrol was back. They had gone north on the trail a short distance but had neither seen nor heard anything. It was then decided that the S-3 would command this force until contact had been established. The S-3 decided that the 3rd Platoon of Charlie Co would furnish the point. Baker Co would follow. The artillery liaison officer would accompany Capt Duncan. The column would continue north on the trail. These arrangements were made without knowing the present location or the exact route to the objective. Both the S-3 and Capt Duncan were hazy as to the location of Hill 424. The march was resumed and the point had gone several hundred yards north when machine pistol fire from the left of the trail stopped it. As the column dispersed to the right of the trail, the S-3 contacted the point commander. His orders to the point commander were to swing off to the right toward the high ground; bypass the Germans; and when the point got on Hill 392, halt, and the column would close in.
The point swung off to the right of the trail and to the east without returning the fire of the machine pistols. It dropped down into a steep gully and then climbed up the fairly steep slopes of the hill. When it reached the top, the S-3 ordered the point commander to guard the north side of the hill. As Baker Co came up it was swung to the west and south of the hill. HQs Co was routed to the east and southeast. As HQs Co moved in it was found that the 81-MM mortar platoon was completely missing. The moon had risen and was full. In its light the S-3 reconnoitered to the north, Capt Duncan to the west, and the Battalion S-2 to the east. When they met to discuss the situation over the only map they had, it was decided that Hill 424 was further to the north, and the march would be resumed again.
Let us turn back in time to where contact with the battalion had been broken. When Col Williams and Capt Harrison returned to Able Co the march was resumed on the trail. At about 2230, the battalion commander realized that neither Charlie Co nor Baker Co was following, nevertheless, he decided to push on to Hill 424 in the hope of reassembling his battalion there. AS Able Co moved along the trail, it swung south around Hill 315 without resistance. The point halted at 2245 when it heard noises about one hundred yards to the right of the trail. Col Williams, Capt Harrison, and ten men investigated and found a concrete dugout that they entered without resistance. Inside were about seven Germans, completely surprised. They were a communications group operating a switchboard and telephones. The Germans were taken prisoners and their equipment was cut up.
The company continued to move around to the west slope of Hill 315. As it swung north several enemy machine guns opened fire. Able Co’s commander assuming that he had run into an enemy final protective line, passed word down from the head of the column to avoid the machine guns. The 3rd Platoon, the last platoon in the column, received this message ‘Fix bayonets and charge that machine gun’. This they promptly did. Yelling and screaming, the platoon rushed to the nearest machine gun, from which the Germans rapidly fled. It was some while before Capt Harrison could reconstitute his column. Then without further enemy contact A Co, skirting the west edge of Hill 315, moved north. It was about 0100 on September 17, when Able Co halted near a well on the southwest slope of the Unnumbered Hill. Friendly artillery fire was falling near the column. Col Williams, Capt Harrison, and the point reconnoitered the top of the hill. Since it appeared to dominate the adjacent hills they mistook it for Hill 424 and decided to organize the crest. When they returned to the company, some of the men were filling their canteens and others were sleeping. At about 0130, Able Co moved to the crest of the Unnumbered Hill. Capt Harrison placed his 1st Platoon on the north slope. To its west and swinging south went the 2nd Platoon; to the right of the 1st Platoon and swinging southeast, the 3rd Platoon. Men were ordered to dig in and get set for daybreak.
Though the battalion commander tried to radio contact the regiment and his other companies but had failed and the two contact patrols sent to the rear had not yet returned, by 0200 on September 17, the battalion commander, with one-third of the battalion under his control, held the Unnumbered Hill, thinking it was Hill 424.
Where was the third rifle company of the battalion, Charlie Co? Capt Milloy, commanding the Company, discovered during the long halt that several men of Able Co had lost contact with the rest of their company, and discovering this, he moved out with the Company in an effort to regain contact. Then, he failed to do this, and he swung his company toward the high ground to the right and moved north along the slopes of the hills. As Charlie Co neared Hill 344, Capt Milloy heard mortars firing off to his right. Thinking they might be Able Co, he sent a patrol toward the mortars. Shortly a firefight was heard and the patrol returned to report that the mortars were the enemy. As Charlie Co continued to the northwest, firing began to their south and southeast but at some distance. Between Hill 344 and the Unnumbered Hill, the point cleared out four enemy outposts, killing or forcing out the enemy. At about 2300, Charlie Co halted at the well on the southwest slope of the Unnumbered Hill. Ahead of him, Capt Milloy saw a deep valley. Beyond it was a hill which he correctly assumed was Hill 424. Since his company had been delayed by the German outposts, Capt Milloy believed that Able Co was already on Hill 424. The valley was still. Hill 424 was still. Rather than risk being fired on by Able Co or being ambushed by the Germans, Capt Milloy decided to send a patrol to Hill 424.
Lt James Dunn, the patrol leader, was instructed to move up the valley and reconnoiter Hill 424. The company would wait for his return. Another patrol was sent down the trail toward the east. As they neared a church on the north slope of Hill 315, an enemy machine gun opened fire on them and they were forced to withdraw. Now a new element entered the picture. Col Tucker, the regimental commander, had come into Charlie Co’s position. In a few moments, Capt Milloy had briefed Col Tucker. Col Tucker had with him the regimental staff except for the S-4. He informed Capt Milloy that he could reinforce Charlie Co with some fourteen Engineers and 505 Parachute Infantry men whom he had gathered en route. Col Tucker and his staff came from his CP at the base of Albanella Hill, Tucker had soon lost radio contact with his two battalions. Enemy artillery had forced the command group to move. With this group, Col Tucker had struck off for the Unnumbered Hill. His small force had bypassed many enemy outposts. Nowhere along his route had he run into the battalions. Except for the men whom he had picked up. Capt Milloy’s force was the first unit he had found.
As the Colonel and the Captain talked they heard a rustle in the bushes ahead of them. Upon investigating they captured a German officer, an artillery observer, and two men. Then Lt Dunn returned. Able Co was not on the hill. Only a few Germans held the hill, and the patrol had found a back route that would lead to Hill 424 without hitting the enemy. Expecting the remainder of the 1st Battalion at any moment, Col Tucker decided to take Hill 424 with this force. At midnight, the force, consisting of two platoons of Charlie Co plus about twenty men and the regimental command group, moved out across the valley that separated the Unnumbered Hill from Hill 424. As the company moved up the slope of Hill 424 Capt Milloy noticed an object about fifteen yards off the path. On investigating it, he found a light tank without its crew. Two men were instructed to disable it. Either they did not know how or they were concerned lest they lose the column. In either event, they did not disable the tank. More ways to be heard from the tank later. Charlie Co moved on to the crest of Hill 424 without resistance and began to dig into a perimeter defense. The men whom Col Tucker had picked up were put into the line on the west edge of the perimeter. As the group was organizing, an enemy patrol hit them. In the confusion that followed, the regimental executive officer and the S-1 were wounded. The enemy patrol was split up. One German was shot by the regimental S-3 as he attempted to sneak up on the command post within the perimeter.
Col Tucker had been trying with no success to establish radio contact with the battalions. He then sent two messengers in an attempt to reach the 1/504, and both were killed. Sporadic small arms and machine pistol fire hit into the perimeter from all sides. At 0400, the regimental S-3, Maj D. Dunham, and the operations sergeant, Sgt Jack Furst, volunteered to try once again to break out of the perimeter. Five minutes later, machine pistol fire was heard. About ten minutes later, Sgt JFurst returned alone. The S-3 had been killed. Three more men volunteered and started off. Nothing was heard from this group.
Back on Hill 392, the battalion S-3 had decided to move his column to the hill to the north (Hill 344). As the company officers moved about, pulling in security and awakening men, there was some grumbling but most of the men, though tired, were cheerful. With Baker Co in the lead, the column moved out again in single file toward Hill 344 which was some five hundred yards away. Between the two hills, the narrow trail dropped off on several terraces which made walking difficult. On reaching Hill 344 the column was marched into a perimeter. Two patrols from Baker Co were sent out. One patrol would move to the north on the trail running off Hill 344. Its instructions were to contact Col Williams. The other would move to the east and contact any battalion elements that it could find. The S-3 and Capt Duncan reconnoitered to the north. Off to the north several hundred yards away a battery of mortars, apparently German, were firing into the valley to the west. When the S-3 returned to the perimeter he was informed that the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion had arrived there. In a short conference, the 2nd Battalion commander stated that the hill on which he now stood was the Unnumbered Hill. His troops would shortly be there. From this, the battalion S-3 gathered that the next hill to the north must be Hill 424. He alerted Baker Co and HQs Co to be ready to move again.
At about 0100 September 17, the Baker Co patrol that had gone north on the trail returned. Its leader, Sgt Gerald Murphy, reported to the S-3 that he had contacted Col Tucker near a well on the next hill north. Col Tucker’s message was ‘Bring the battalion down here at once’. As rapidly as the column could, it moved out with Sgt Murphy leading the point. At about 0300, he halted at a wall below the Unnumbered Hill and said that this was where Col Tucker had been. The battalion S-2 and the S-3 reconnoitering along the trail ran into Col Williams who had just left Able Co as it had moved up to the Unnumbered Hill.