A TYPICAL SOUVENIR  ITALY 1944 / 1945

Part 3

The Story of the Powder River / Let'er Buck, 91st Inf Div, August 1917 - January 1945

The front cover of the booklet
Picture. History of the 91st Division. Booklets front cover.
Published by the 91st Infantry Division in 1945.
(coll. Burridge)
Table of contents
Memo by Major General William G. Livesay (Not shown)
Chapter I - 91st Division in World War I
Chapter II - The First Two Years 15 AUGUST 1942- 12 JULY 1944
Chapter III - Arno River Campaign
Chapter IV - The Gothic Line Campaign
Chapter V - North of Futa Pass

Chapter I
91ST DIVISION IN WORLD WAR I

Five months after the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, the original 91st Infantry Division was activated at Camp Lewis, Washington. Most of the men came from the states of the Northwest, a fact which explains many of the distinctively western traditions and emblems which are part of the heritage of the 91st Division of World War II. Activated under the command of Major General H. A. Greene, the Division immediately plunged into training. The first contingent, which arrived 5 September 1917, was so eager to begin that they drilled in their civilian clothes.
After 10 months of training the Division made ready to go overseas. Examined and re-outfitted at the staging area, Camp Merritt, New Jersey, the first elements sailed for France 6 July 1918. Most of the men landed in England, although a few were taken directly to France.
By 1 August the Infantry Brigades had been gathered at Montigny le Roi, and the Artillery Brigade at Camp de Souge and Clermont-Ferrand. At these places the men underwent a month of incessant drilling and long hours of marching, until they were declared ready for actual combat. On 29 August Major General William Jonhston assumed command of the Division, and a very few days later, 7 September, it was assigned to reserve of the First American Army during the St. Mihiel offensive, with headquarters at Sorcy.

Combat

When the success of the St. Mihiel offensive was assured, the 91st entered the Meuse-Argonne sector prepared to attack. Nearly every other Division employed in the Meuse-Argonne had previous combat experience. The 91st had had no such experience, yet it gave notable account of itself. On 25 September General John J. Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of Allied Armies, personally visited Major General Johnston to express his confidence in the 91st before they marched into battle. The next day the Division showed that General Pershings confidence had not been misplaced by breaking through two German lines and penetrating a third, advancing 8 kilometers. The enemy was driven from the strong points of Very, Epinonville, Gesnes, Eclisfontaine, and Tronsol Farm. General J. Cameron, Commanding General, Fifth Corps, paid high tribute to the Division in an order to General Johnston:

At a time when the divisions on its flanks were faltering and even falling back, the 91st pushed ahead and steadfastly clung to every yard gained. In its initial performance, your Division has established itself firmly in the list of the Commander-in-Chiefs reliable units. Please extend to your officers and men my appreciation of their splendid behavior and my hearty congratulations on the brilliant record they have made.

Despite the fact that this offensive was the Divisions first entrance into combat, it captured more artillery, machine guns, and prisoners, and advanced a greater distance under fire than many Divisions with much longer combat experience. On 4 October, the Division was relieved by the 32nd Division and assembled near Contrisson. One of the great honors given the Division came on 16 October, when, along with the 37th Division, it was named as part of the armies in Flanders, which, under King Albert, were about to launch the final crushing drive t the enemy in Belgium. The 91st attacked in the early morning mists of 31 October. From that time on until the very moment of surrender, 11 AM on 11 November, the Division drove the enemy back in panic. Although the enemy had been ordered to hold the heights between the Lys and the Excaut Rivers to the death, the 91st smashed them the first day, and by the evening of 1 November they were on the outskirts of Audenande. The next day the town was secured, and the Division pushed on to capture Welden, Petegem, and Kasteelwijk in rapid succession. On the morning of 10 November, with the 182nd Infantry Brigade in the lead, the Division crossed the Scheldt River near Eyne. They drove forward through town after town, and had advanced beyond Moldergem when the order came to cease firing. In recognition of the superb courage and fighting ability, the 91st Division had shown Major General De Goutte, who had resumed command of the Sixth French Army, issued an order which read, in part:

John (left) and two of his comrades at lunch together with wine and birdie
Picture. John and two of his comrades at lunch with wine and birdie
(coll. Burridge)
I have found the same spirit of duty and discipline freely given in the 37th and 91st Divisions, United States Army, which brings about valiant soldiers and victorious armies. Glory to such troops and to such commanders. They have bravely contributed to the liberation of a part of Belgian territory ad to final victory. The great nation to which they belong can be proud of them.

After the Armistice, elements of the 166th Field Artillery Brigade moved into Germany and occupied the village of Wittlich until February 1919. The infantry of the Division, after parading triumphantly with the men of the 37th before the cheering crowds of Brussels, patrolled the Franco-Belgian border west of Poperinghe from Beveren to Warande, for a short time. On 2 January the first contingent of men sailed for home, and the echelons sailed thereafter as transportation became available. Division Headquarters, last to leave France, sailed 6 April, and final demobilization of the Division was completed at camps in California, Washington, and Wyoming by 14 May 1919.

Chapter II
THE FIRST TWO YEARS: 15 AUGUST 1942 - 12 JULY 1944

March, Shoot, and Obey

The 91st Infantry Division was officially reactivated at Camp White, Oregon on 15 August 1942. Actually Major General Charles H. Gerhardt had arrived at Camp White on 8 July 1942, and by 19 July most of the Division officers had reported for duty. Although in certain specialized arms the original cadre was selected from technical schools or commands, the majority came from the 1st Cavalry Division, stationed at Ft. Bliss, Texas. At the elaborate ceremony of reactivation on 15 August, 529 officers and 1279 enlisted men listened to the roll call of the dead and witnessed a moving ceremony of the presentation of colors. So the new 91st was born. Quickly all efforts were bent to building up the Division to numerical strength, and then to training the men for the battle-trials ahead.
Early in September occurred the famous 91-mile march, of which the original members of the Division still reminisce. Undertaken to instruct the cadre in marches and bivouacs and to test the best physical powers of the officers and men, the march of 91 miles was made through the rough roads and trails of the Cascade Mountains. The distance was covered in 28-3/4 hours of actual marching time. With the grueling test passed, the cadre settled down to the training of the men sent to the Division. During October and November, over 12,000 men poured into Camp White from all parts of the country and the training of these men began in earnest. Nearly all of them had no previous military training and so, on 15 November, they began with the basic fundamentals. The training period covered 39 weeks; basic training lasted until 15 February: unit training in platoon and company formations occupied the next 13 weeks, 15 February to 13 May. The last 13 weeks, devoted to the tactics of the Battalion and Regiment, were climaxed by maneuvers involving the whole Division held in the vicinity of Camp White, 21 June  10 July 1943.

Maneuvers

At the conclusion of the "D" series maneuvers the Division took stock of its progress, and weaknesses, as revealed by the maneuvers, were corrected. In addition there was considerable training in the assault of fortified area. This phase of the training was directed by Major General William G. Livesay, who became Commanding General of the Division, 14 July 1943. Under his supervision the Division prepared for IV Corps maneuvers at the Bend Maneuvers Area, approximately 10,000 square miles of terrain ranging from hot dusty desert to cold mountainous country. The Division closed there on 1 September 1943.
In all, there were eight problems in which the 91st, together with the 96th and the 104th Divisions, took part in both offensive and defensive operations over desert and mountain terrain. The extremes of heat and cold, the excessive dust, snows and rain, and the difficult terrain tested the endurance, and ingenuity of every officer and man. The exercises accomplished their purposes and the three Divisions, which had participated, emerged hard, well-trained fighting units ready to take their places in theaters of combat.
From Bend the Division moved to Camp Adair, near Albany, Oregon, 2 November 1943. The lessons learned in the maneuvers were thoroughly studied and every effort was made to polish the rough edges wherever they had appeared in anticipation of an early alert for movement overseas. It was not a long wait, for the alert came on 20 January 1944.

P.O.M.

Events moved rapidly during the next few weeks - in a swirl of intensive planning designed to lay the groundwork for the entire movement. Simultaneous with the first orders from III Corps, Army Services Forces assigned a High priority to the Division for immediately supplying those items of equipment still short.
The message from Major General John Millikin, III Corps, directed the Division to conduct immediate inspections, intensify training, complete firing, and expedite shortage lists at once and to submit a personnel status report on or before 28 January 1944. It further charged the Division with submitting a training status report on 5 February 1944, showing the exact status of training. Schools on boxing and crating, servicing of vehicles and weapons for overseas shipment, Personal Affairs, and Malaria Control were immediately conducted for all personnel of the Division.
On 28 January 1944 the War Department published the formal movement orders setting the readiness date as 1 March for personnel and accompanying equipment, and 15 February for the Advance Detachment. During the following weeks the great pattern of preparation for combat was woven into a fabric that was strong and enduring-that would withstand the test of battle without revealing miscalculations that foresight and planning could prevent. The Division cleared its personnel ineligibile for overseas service and received the necessary replacements: it requisitioned equipment and issued it to the units concerned, furloughs were granted to those eligible, security was maintained, the physical fibre of the men was tested - corrected when possible - by the Division Surgeon. Training was pushed to completion and immunizations were given. Gradually the ideal of complete preparedness grew in to fact, and on 8 March General Livesay was able to report to III Corps that all arrangements short of the last minute details had been completed and that the Division was ready to move.
The preparation of the Division had been completed in exactly 48 days. Four days after the General had reported the Division ready the War Department set the final readiness dates: 20 March for personnel and accompanying equipment, 12 March for the Advance Detachment, and 14 March for the impedimenta. It would be a mistake to imply that during this brief time of preparation the Division had made no mistakes in its gigantic task. As a whole, however, the work had been completed smoothly, without confusion or strain.
When on 11 March the first call from the port was received, General Livesay immediately called a conference of his staff and unit commanders and carefully outlined the final plans, answered questions raised and quietly ended:

"We have a problem requiring expeditious action before us, but this isn't anything like the problems we are going to face during the next year; so let us start off in the right manner, with the Advance Detachment getting off tomorrow and the impedimenta on the 14th and the rest of the Division on time."

The echelons moved out of Camp Adair according to schedule. General, Livesay and Col. Joseph P. Donnovin, Chief of Staff, followed by air. Brigadier General Ralph Hospital, Division Artillery Commander, was left in command, of the rear echelon. These last elements of the Division left the camp on 29 March and closed on 3 April.

Staging

At the staging area the 91st Division came under the command of the commander of the station. Each unit was assigned to a specific area and operated under the command of the area commanders. The men and equipment of the Division were checked once again, and all preparations were completed for the movement overseas. There were to be four echelons consisting of the Advance Party, the first half of the Division, the remainder of the Division, less one Battalion, and the 2nd Battalion of the 363rd Infantry, delayed because of lack of shipping space. The first to leave was the Advance Party. At 1100, 30 March this group of four officers and six enlisted men under the command of Brigadier General Raymond E. S. Williamson boarded the ship for overseas. Destined for Naples, Italy, the detachment first landed at Casablanca on 9 April and then flew by plane to Algiers and Naples. They arrived on 11 April.
General Livesay, accompanied by Colonel Donnovin, Chief of Staff, and Captain Lash, Aide-de-Camp, proceeded by air after the departure of the first increment. They departed from Washington 5 April, and after conferences in Algiers, flew to Naples for instructions, arriving 10 April. They flew back to Algiers 16 April, and then to Oran to await arrival of the Division.
The second echelon left the Port of Embarkation 3 April. At sea its destination was suddenly changed from Naples to Oran, the Allied Base in Algeria. This did not vitally affect the movement, but it did become immediately necessary for the Advance Detachment, already at Naples, to return to Africa and reestablish the 91st Division's forward headquarters. Thus, shortly after midnight on 14 April, this group left Italy by plane and organized the forward Command Post of the Division at No. 10 Rue Gallieni, Oran.
The first increment of Division arrived in convoy off the shores of Mers-el-Kebir 18 April, debarked and moved to permanent bivouac areas, with headquarters in Port aux Poules. Back in the United States the third echelon - aware of the Division's new destination - sailed 12 April and arrived at Mers-el-Kebir on the 30th. The 2nd Battalion of the 363rd Infantry left Hampton Roads on 21 April and arrived in North Africa 19 days later, on 10 May. This officially closed the Division in North Africa, and General Livesay wired the Commanding General of the North African Theater of Operations: "last elements of the 91st Division closed in Theater 10 May 1944, End." Thus the Division which had been alerted on the 20th of January and whose first contingent did not leave the West Coast until 14th of March, accomplished the approximately 7,500-mile operation in exactly 54 days.

Training in Africa

Meanwhile, assigned to the Seventh Army under the command of Major General Alexander M. Patch, the 91st Division was immediately launched on an intensive amphibious training program that was organized to simulate every possible phase of battle. This training program, scheduled to last approximately six weeks, was under the supervision of a special Invasion Training Center with Headquarters at Port aux Poules. The 361st Infantry, with the 916th Field Artillery Battalion and one company of the 316th Engineer Combat Battalion and the 316th Medical Battalion attached, initiated its training 3 May.
The whole program was divided into two basic phases: individual and small unit training and then Battalion and, in one case, Regimental landings. There was training in the organization of boat teams, wire breaching, debarkation drill, demolition teams, rocket teams, flame throwers, and a dozen other aspects of invasion technique. Then during the final period, units made landings on beaches in Arzew Bay in battalion strength both at night and during the day. During these landings, it was the mission of the troops to push through a heavily fortified zone, with barbed wire entanglements, pillboxes, and tanks; to climb mountainous terrain, to land artillery from the sea, and to fight under the guns of naval support. It was the toughest single period of training that the Division had undergone.
The 361st Combat Team, commanded by Col. Rudolph W Broedlow, completed its course on 15 May and left the Division on detached service with the Fifth Army in Italy. The 362nd Combat Team began its schedule on 11 May. The training was the same as that of the 361st with the exception that it executed a regimental landing, whereas the 361st had operated only in battalion strength. Its training ended on 19 May, shortly before the 363rd Combat Team began, and by the end of May all, the combat teams had completed the entire course.

"Dry Run" for Combat

The formal amphibious training of the 91st Division was completed on 31 May. The next day it began preparing for a mock invasion of the Arzew beaches as the finale to its training and as the prelude to its movement to the Italian front. On 3 June it moved from Port aux Poules to Mediterranean Base Section Staging Area No. 2 near Fleurus, where the final plans for the Arzew training landing were developed. At the same time the more comprehensive preparation required by the permanent movement to Italy, which was to follow, was carried on.
D-Day for the all-out assault against enemy position on the coast of Arzew Bay was scheduled for 11 June. It was assumed that the area from Oran to Mostaganem was held by elements of the German Infantry Division "W" with the "Y" Grenadier Regiment at Oran, the "X" Grenadiers at St. Cloud, and one Battalion of the "Z" Grenadier Regiment at Mostaganem. The entire stretch of the beach was strongly fortified with pillboxes, barbed wire entanglements, anti-tank traps, and strong points. There was also a force of enemy tanks reported in the vicinity prepared to repel any possible attack. The Division's mission was to seize the Port of Arzew and the airport at the town of Renan. Its final objective was the high ground west of Renan and south of Kleber. The plan called for a coordinated attack by both the 362nd and 363rd Regimental Combat Teams with engineer, medical, AAA, air and naval units in direct support.
Endless landing ships of all types were massed for the "Invasion." The Division CP was established on the USS Biscayne while an alternate CP was established on the HMS Derbyshire. Troops began embarking on 9 June. The following day was spent in briefing the commanders and men on the specific plans of the mission. Then, late that same night, 10 June, the ships moved slowly out of the harbor of Oran under cover of darkness and steamed silently ten miles out to sea opposite Cape Carbon and the shores southeast of Arzew.
During the night the troops were loaded into small landing craft, while a heavy sea rolled against the sides of the ships. Forty-five minutes before H-Hour, 0400, navy destroyers laid down a heavy artillery barrage on the beaches. Under this protective covering the first assault teams moved toward the hostile shore. The 363rd, getting off to a late start because its landing was forced off course by the wind, attacked at 0440 on the narrow "Ranger" beach just south of Cape Carbon. They landed in 14 waves and when they hit the beach they struck hard. Within 12 minutes the first wave had breached the initial wire entanglements at the beach's edge and was moving south to its next phase line. By the end of the first hour the Regiment had knocked out the enemy pillboxes with flame-throwers and demolition charges.
Meanwhile, at 0510, the 362nd Combat Team moved against the enemy's defenses on the Arzew shore, cut the road leading to the city and struck 1000 yards inland to its first objective. By 1000 the entire Regiment was ashore and the town had been captured. Reverting to the approach march formation with the 3rd Battalion in the lead, the Regiment advanced on the Division objective and by 1400 had joined forces with the 363rd on its right flank in seizing the high ground south of Kleber. The operation, viewed as a whole, was declared a success, and the training went a long way toward hardening the Division for the combat it was to meet in the Italian front.

Italy

Nazi leaflet front: V1 on London Nazi leaflet back (part): V1 on London
Picture. In June this nazi leaflet fell on allied troops fighting in Italy.
It tells the allied soldier how heavy England is hit by the, at that moment, new V1
(coll. Moonen)
The move to Italy was initiated 15 June when the Division, with its greatest "maneuver" lying ahead, left Staging Area No. 2 to embark on ships in the harbor of Oran. The following day, 16 June, the 91st less its rear echelon headquarters steamed out of Oran destined for Naples and the smaller port of Bagnoli, four miles north of the great base. It arrived on the 19th of June and marched to Staging areas in the vicinity of Bagnoli, where it began preparing for imminent entrance into combat. On 20 June it was assigned to Fifth Army. First steps toward moving the Division into the line were taken on 27 June, when General Livesay received a telegram from, General Mark W. Clark, commander of Fifth Army, ordering the Division to move on approximately 30 June to the vicinity of Civitavecchia, north of Rome. At 0800 2 July the Division Command Post was opened at Montalto di Castro, four miles east of Civitavecchia.

Baptism of Fire

In the meantime, the 361st Regimental Combat Team had entered combat attached to the 36th Division. Having landed at Anzio on 1 June the Regiment took up positions the following night on the ridge four miles northwest of Velletri. At 030530 June they jumped off, the first element of the 91st Division to enter combat, and four hours later they received their first baptism of fire.

The next day the Regiment reverted to the control of VI Corps, but it was immediately assigned to the 34th Division and began a series of rapid moves to the north. On the night of 8-9 June the 361st Infantry relieved the 133rd Infantry, 34th Division, and at 090530 June attacked north astride Highway 1. Progress was rapid with the major delaying factors being mines, demolitions and occasional enemy delaying positions. In succession the Regiment captured Tarquinia, Montalto di Castro, Nuxiatello, and Orbetello.

One of the stiffest engagements was met at Ponte dIstia on the Ombrone River. Here the Germans had a strong holding position in the town and two hills nearby. By infiltrating a whole Battalion over a partially destroyed dam single file, one man at a time, and by taking advantage of all avenues of covered approach, the Regiment completely surprised the enemy. Although they made a determined effort to stop the attack with heavy artillery and mortar concentrations, the 3rd Battalion pushed ahead, and by 162030 June they had captured Hills 61 and 66, as well as the town of Ponte d'Istia itself. Many casualties were inflicted on the enemy in the engagement and approximately 80 prisoners were taken.

Nazi leaflet back only: Good treatment of allied POW
Picture. In July this Nazi leaflet fell on US and British troops fighting in Italy. It tells the allied soldier how well he will
be treated after being taken POW by the Germans
(coll. Moonen)
The rapid advance northward continued until 19 June, when the Regiment was assembled near Batignano. Here, after a day's rest, they were attached to the 1st Armored Division. To all intents and purposes the Regimental Combat Team for the time being lost identity. The 2nd Battalion was attached to Task Force Howze, while elements of the other Battalions were attached to any one of three motorized Combat Teams as supporting infantry. The mission of the infantry was to ride the tanks and the tank destroyer decks until opposition was encountered: then the infantry was to deploy and attack. The main axis of advance was the Batignano-Paganico-Roccostrada Highway.

During the following two weeks the men of the 361st Infantry saw much action. The most bitter engagement of the period occurred at Casole d'Isola, where the fighting lasted for four days, 1-4 July. After the town had been captured, elements of the Regiment were relieved. On 6 July elements of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions returned to the control of the 361st Infantry and the Regimental Combat Team returned to the control of the Division.

On 4 July the 363rd Regimental Combat Team commanded by Col. W. Fulton Magill, Jr. was attached to the 34th Division to gain combat experience and entered combat near Riparabella. Attacking through mountainous terrain they captured M. Vaso on 6 July and held it against very strong counterattacks. Although they were forced by their losses to withdraw briefly, the hill was secured on 9 July, and the advance continued toward the high ground west of Chianni. Opposition was light but progress was slow, mainly as a result of the very difficult supply situation.


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