443rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in World Ward II

ITALIAN CAMPAIGN

ANZIO - VELLETRI OPERATION

Even though the 443rd was not attached to the 36th Division during the AnzioVelletri operation, it took pride in the news that the Division’s General Walker, after two tries, had his Velletri flanking attack approved by II Corps and successfully executed it. It was exactly the same tactic that General Walker wanted to use at the Rapido River Crossing and was turned down. The 36th had entered the Anzio Beachhead as VI Corps Reserve. On 23 May it moved to the attack with the 34th and 45th Divisions west of Velletri. Little progress was made for several days until the 36th Division’s 143rd Regiment cut the Velletri Valmonte road and pushed north. On 30 May the 142nd Regiment, in Corps reserve, moved twenty miles to the front and during the night, infiltrated through enemy lines to Mt. Artemisio and then to the top of the mountain’s ridge line overlooking Velletri from the north. When dawn broke the enemy became aware of what had happened but underestimated the size of the American force that was behind them, thinking that only one or two companies were involved. Hence the enemy forces sent to counterattack were much too small and, as the 141st and 143rd regiments joined in the attack, the demoralized Germans suffered huge losses in men, equipment and supplies. As a result, the enemy defenses south of Rome collapsed and except for sporadic fighting in the Alban Hills and Mt. Cavo, the road to Rome was open.

Rome fell on 4 June. It had previously been declared an "open city" to avoid fighting in it and so protect its many treasures of historical value from war’s destruction. 443rd Commander Larson joined a group of officers around General Mark Clark at the entrance to Rome when a flurry of rifle shots was fired at them. What fighting did occur in Rome was largely in the outskirts. The attack set off a quick search for the source of the shots and turned up three German boys 12-14 years old, in camouflage uniforms and with high-powered scopes on their rifles.

443rd Batteries A and D moved at mid-day on 4 June to positions defending the highway and adjoining roads from Falconi to Rome. In advances with the field artillery, Battery B and Platoon C-1 had moved through Rome to positions beyond the Tiber River in the northwest sector of the city. An enemy artillery shell exploded beside Platoon C-1’s command halftrack, killing an officer and two medical aid men and wounding four other men. But by midday, General Clark had headed a victory parade into Rome. Pope John X came to the balcony of a Vatican building and blessed the American soldiers. People began coming out of caves and grottos where they had been hiding until the fighting was over. Thousands of Romans lined the streets, cheering their American liberators and handing out bottles of wine, cookies, cakes, garlands of flowers and kisses from girls, men and women — probably the most enthusiastic welcome that Rome has ever given a conquering army!

For one day, the mobile 443rd Battalion Forward Command Post was set up in a vacant lot in northern Rome, surrounded by three and four story luxury apartments. Italian communists and sympathizers were taking advantage of the temporary breakdown of civil authority to eject people from apartments and even commandeering their cars. Command Post personnel, responded to appeals for help and sent the communists on their way. One grateful doctor, whose wife was American, invited Col. Larson, Capt. Fisher and Lt. Frincke to his apartment for a delicious luncheon.

The 443rd continued, the following day, to support the Allied advance northwestward through Civitavecchia and Viterbo. On 12 June the Battalion was withdrawn from the line and moved to bivouac in the King’s Forest about six miles south of Rome. A training program was begun and efforts made to have all personnel visit Rome — the goal for which they had been fighting for a year and a half.

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