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"The waves
Of the mysterious death-river moaned;
The tramp, the shout, the fearful thunder-roar
Of red-breathed cannon, and the wailing cry
Of myriad victims, filled the air—"

Prentice

IV

Disaster at the River Rapido

On January 1 1944, we were in a rest area near San Angelo d'Alife, Italy. Replacements of officers and men enabled us to be reconstituted at nearly normal strength. An intensive training program was instituted and continued until we were loaded again on trucks and started up Highway No. 6, the historic Via Roma, for relief of the 6th Armored Infantry Regiment on Mount Porchia. This was accomplished on the night of January 12th.

Mount Porchia was relatively small compared to the mountains typical of central Italy. Its importance was derived from its isolated position commanding the low ground lying between the Mount Maggiore-Camino hill mass to the south and Mount Trocchio to the northwest. Highway No. 6 cut across the lower northern slopes, extending to the north across the River Rapido at Cassino.

Orders were received on January 14th for us to attack with the 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Division, on our right, seize Mount Trocchio and the area to the south and west, including La Pieta and the high ground beyond to the River Rapido. Mount Trocchio was located about three miles northwest of Mount Porchia, with its long axis following a northwest-southwest direction. It towered well above Mount Porchia and occupied a commanding position over the surrounding ground, guarding the approaches to the River Rapido and the southern and eastern approaches to Cassino. Its sides were extremely steep and rocky. LaPieta was a medium sized hill south of the southern slopes of the mountain proper. The surrounding area, including the area between Mount Porchia and Mount Trocchio, consisted of low, rolling terrain.

The coordinated attack was launched at 0630 hours, January 15th, with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions abreast and the 1st in reserve. Although determined resistance was put up by the enemy, especially along the southern sector in the vicinity of La. Pieta and south towards Cesa Martina, the attack proceeded satisfactorily and by 0600 hours, January 16th, we had cleared our sector all the way to the river.

Patrols were sent across the river in preparation for a coordinated attack of the river line scheduled for January 10-21st To our north, in the vicinity of Cassino, the 34th Division was to demonstrate, but not attempt, a crossing. To our left, the 143rd Infantry Regiment was to cross the river south of San Angelo. We were to be supported by Corps artillery as well as our normal combat team and divisional guns. Other fires were to be had from our Cannon Company and Company A of the 2nd Chemical Battalion, which had the mission of screening with smoke shells on order.

Our crossing was to be attempted in the vicinity of the "S" bend of the River Rapido, about a mile west of the southern tip of Mount Trocchio and approximately in front of the middle of the sector we were occupying at the time. Companies A, B and C were to cross first by means of rubber assault boats and were to launch the attack at 2000 hours on January 20th. At 2100 hours, the rifle companies of our 3rd Battalion were to begin their crossing by means of foot bridges to be installed in the meantime, north and south of the "S" bend. Supporting weapons and battalion headquarters units of both battalions were scheduled to follow across on the bridges.

The Engineers had been directed to install an 8-ton infantry support bridge by 2400 hours on the night of the attack to enable anti-tank guns and vehicular traffic to cross. The Engineers were also charged with the duty of furnishing guides through the mine fields on the approaches to the crossing sites.

Our initial intelligence information indicated that the crossing was a hazardous operation. Both banks of the river were heavily laid with a wide belt of mines and covered by interlocking weapons fire, mortar concentrations and cleverly contrived obstacles with double apron wire fence on the enemy side. Trees had been cut to afford observation and lanes of fire. The stream's swift current swirled along at more than five miles per hour. The channel of water, while not over 45 feet wide, cut through vertical banks which were from three to four feet high,, dropping away from the banks abruptly to a depth of from ten to twelve feet in the center.

The collapsible rubber boats proved inadequate for the crossing. The current was too swift and the boats capsized readily in the swirling water. Small shell fragments punctured the rubber, often rendering the boats useless while being conveyed from final assembly areas to the stream. Five of seven boats used by patrols from Company E on the night of January 17th had been lost.

During the daylight hours of January 20th, final preparations were completed. Engineering equipment was brought forward. Additional communication lines were laid to wireheads in forward areas. Eight carrier pigeons from the II Corps' loft were brought forward to be used in emergency.

 

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