Sunday, September 09, 2007

The grim cost of freedom, Salerno September 9, 1943

From One of Many:

US 36 Division
In order to cover the four beaches in the US sectors , 16 Panzer Division had two reinforced companies, many in strong points constructed near the shoreline. These troops normally operated with the tanks, but now occupied a static role with machine guns and mortars covering the likely exits from the beaches. Field artillery was dug in around the foothills of Monte Soprano, and had a commanding view of the shore and beaches.

The American command did not advocate a naval barrage prior to landing , and so the Landing Craft approached the shore line with the beaches remaining quiet. The first landing assault was by the 142nd Infantry, and had begun their final run in at 03:30. As soon as they began to offload the troops, the German defence began to fire with heavy machine gun and mortar fire. The plywood construction of the Landing Craft, rapidly began to disintegrate under this hail of fire. Although the first assault was decimated by very accurate fire they gradually worked their way into the dunes where they became pinned down.

At sea four Landing Craft Support Small (LCS (s)) opened fire on the German positions but lacked sufficient fire power. These were then supported by USS Ludlow some 1500 yards offshore, who opened fire with 5 inch shells. This proved limited in success as they were unable to pinpoint the German positions, and did not know how far forward their own troops had advanced up the beach. To further compound the problems for 36 Division, the second wave of troops had not yet arrived, due to concern over mines, and it was decided to withhold further landings until daylight one hour distant.

Daylight began to break, and some of the LCT’s began letting off smoke pots to conceal their positions from the enemy fire. This practice was rapidly adopted by the rest of the LCT’s which created a fog so thick that many craft became lost. Some of the craft when approaching the beaches came under heavy fire. These refusing to risk destruction of their craft and passengers, off loaded them into too greater depth of water, so that they had to wade ashore soaking all radio equipment and supplies in salt water. This caused communications failure between ship and shore further exacerbating the confusion.

The high buildings of Paestrum were put to good use by the Germans. A 50 foot mediaeval watch tower, which was too close to the shore landings for the Allied Navy to bombard, was used by the Panzer Grenadiers to mount machine guns for sweeping the beach area, while observers corrected the artillery and mortar bombardment of the beaches. The American infantry ran for cover in the scrub, and irrigation ditches, but most were pinned down for much of the day by the German fire, while the railway objective remained some one and a half miles inland. Slowly some progress was made by sections of 141st, but again most were pinned down for much of the day by German fire which eventually closed the beaches in that sector for further landings. With daylight breaking the Germans began local counter strikes spearheaded with tanks. The Americans were thus hit with a German resistance far greater than anticipated and in consequence the movement inland was far from the planned operation.

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