|A TYPICAL SOUVENIR ITALY 1944 / 1945|
The Story of the Powder River / Let'er Buck, 91st Inf Div, August 1917 - January 1945
|Picture. Citizens of newly liberated Ponsacco greet the 91st Division. As depicted in the booklet|
With, only a brief rest, the 361st took up the pursuit of the fleeing enemy. The 1st Battalion attacked at 0500 18 July and quickly took Orceto and moved to positions protecting the Regimental left flank. At the same time the 3rd Battalion, reinforced by both tanks and tank destroyers drove rapidly north. Only three hours after the attack opened, Company K entered Pontedera. An hour later, at 180900, having disposed of the enemy machine gun and sniper fire, the Company pushed to the south bank of the Arno to become the first element of Fifth Army to reach the river. Although the Germans had managed to evacuate most of their artillery across the river successfully, numerous tanks and vehicles were found abandoned.
Coincident with the brilliant drive of the 361st Infantry up the Ponsacco-Pontedera road, the 362nd Infantry on the right flank moved steadily forward in its sector. On 15 July General Livesay visited the Regimental CP and expressed his pleasure at the successes scored by the 362nd. This was a tonic to the weary, hard-fighting men, and at 160800 they moved out to the attack with new vigor. Fighting steadily throughout the day and the following night, they were well on the Divisional objective, the high ground south of the Arno, at 0800 17 July.
At this stage the enemy loosed a terrific barrage of 88mm artillery and mortar fire, so heavy that the entire Regiment was checked. Although the 346th FA attempted to silence the opposition, limited observation prevented successful accomplishment of the mission. As a result, the front lines withdrew slightly to positions better situated to repel a possible counterattack.
The attack was resumed at 180330, with the 3rd Battalion, 362rd Infantry, replacing the 1st in the front lines. The advance was slow-not because of enemy resistance, which was slight, but because of the terrain, which was very rugged. During the morning the troops were delayed by artillery fire from the area of Treggiaia north to the river, and by Shu mines, the first the Regiment had encountered. About noon, the Germans were observed pulling their artillery back across the river. On the next day at 0800 the advance was again taken up, this time without enemy resistance. Terrain, demolitions, and mine fields slowed the advance but at 191500 the Regiment had closed on its objective. One company from each Battalion outposted the line, and patrols were sent to the Arno River.
Thus after seven and a half days of fighting the Division had accomplished its mission. It was the first unit of either IV Corps or Fifth Army to reach the Arno River and to control the high ground to its south. Major General Willis D. Crittenberger, Commanding General, IV Corps, wired General Livesay on 18 July: "Well done 91st Division."
That same day, in a General Order, General Livesay commended the Division for its outstanding achievements.
I am highly gratified with the accomplishment of the Division. I have noted a spirit of determination and pride of service in all ranks that assures the further success of the Division.
While the 361st and 362nd Infantries were driving straight north to the Arno, the 363rd Infantry, commanded by Col. W. Fulton Magill, Jr., scored two more brilliant "firsts" for the Division when it captured Leghorn, 18 July, and the section of Pisa lying south of the Arno, 24 July.
In what was described as a spectacular "End Around Play" the 363rd Regimental Combat Team reinforced, designated Task Force Williamson under the command of Brigadier General Raymond E. S. Williamson, Assistant Division Commander, moved out of its assembly area at 1817 on the 17th of July, organized in the 34th Division sector and at 0340 18 July knifed northwest through the gap between the 135th and 442nd Infantry Regiments toward the great port. At 2100 the same night, the city at whose gates Fifth Army had been hammering for over 25 days fell to Task Force Williamson. The Germans were caught completely by surprise: they were hit when they were off-balance, when their main forces were deployed against the 34th Division. And in a matter of hours the Germans strongest bastion south of the Arno had fallen. The 1st Battalion and the 2nd Platoon of the 91st Reconnaissance Troop striking from the high ground east of the port were the first to enter Leghorn that night. The 2nd and 3rd Battalion moved in the following morning and reorganized for the attack on Pisa. Enemy resistance by this time was completely shattered, and the main forces were withdrawing towards Pisa.
Principal obstacle to the advance on Pisa was a canal north of Leghorn cutting Highway I. However, the 1st Battalion crossed the barrier at 1800 20 July, and the battle for Pisa was under way. Enemy artillery was trained on the canal, and it was impossible to erect a bridge. Patriots were then used as carrying parties to keep the forward troops supplied. The following day the 1st Battalion struck out for the south bank of the Arno River, where it established its positions that night. By 0530, 23 July, patrols had entered the city; by 1245 they had grown to company strength. The 3rd battalion, infiltrating in small groups across fields, so disguised its movement that the Germans did not realize that a Battalion had joined the 1st, and by late in the afternoon the two units held positions in the city. That night, however, mortar and artillery fire, directed from a German OP located in the famous Tower of Pisa north of the Arno, was so heavy that General Williamson ordered one Battalion to withdraw south of the city. Retaliatory fire was prohibited, and the job was complicated by orders from the Commanding General, Fifth Army, to spare the historic installations in Pisa if at all possible.
From 23 July until 28 July, when it was relieved, Task Force Williamson was under constant artillery, mortar and small arms fire from German lines across the river. At first enemy patrols came across in small boats to reconnoiter the American positions. But General Williamson thwarted the moves by establishing strong points at strategic positions. On the night of 28 July the 363rd was relieved and withdrew south of Leghorn in preparation for movement to the east, where it was assigned the mission of screening Fifth Army's right flank and maintaining contact with the 88th Division.
|Picture. 91st Men pause to inspect a captured two man tankette. As depicted in the booklet|
In a commendation to the troops of IV Corps for the campaign to the Arno and the capture of the city, General Clark singled out the 91st Division when he wrote:
I have been especially delighted over the performance of the 91st Division in its first major test."
General Crittenberger of IV Corps added:
I consider it an honor and a privilege to have commanded such fine American troops of the caliber of the men of the 91st Division. The valiant deeds of these men and their outstanding contribution in this Italian campaign will go down in history as another great military achievement of American arms.
During the last week of July, Fifth Army regrouped its forces along the Arno, as the first preparation for the Gothic Line Campaign. By 1 August the 91st Division had assumed responsibility for the eastern flank of Fifth Army, with Task Force Ramey on its left and the British Eighth Indian Division on its right. The 362nd Infantry, echeloned on a five mile front running east from the small town of Buche along the railroad just south of the Arno, had organized defensive positions across the Division sector and was maintaining strong combat and reconnaissance patrols to the river. The 361st and 363rd Infantries were in Division reserve. The Division Artillery, less the 347th Field Artillery Battalion, was attached to Task Force Ramey, while the 178th Field Artillery Group was in direct support of the Division.
The mission of the Division at this time was to establish a defensive line along the Arno River, to protect the right flank of Fifth Army, to screen the regrouping of Fifth Army, and to maintain liaison with the Eighth Indian Division. Up to the time the Division was relieved from the line on 17 August, the period, an interim between attacks, was comparatively quiet. It was characterized by extensive reconnaissance and patrol activity, harassing artillery firing, and occasional patrol skirmishes. The enemy was sensitive to every move. During the day there was very little activity other than artillery duels. At night, however, patrols often 40-50 men strong, would cross the river to probe the Alllied lines. Sometimes German patrols would hide in houses south of the Arno by day and make reconnaissance forays by night. They also made extensive use of observation planes and flares in the attempt to determine the dispositions and intentions of our forces.
The 362nd Infantry, occupying the positions along the river had two primary missions; to learn as much as possible about the enemy's strength, position, fire-power, and movement, and to scout the river and its banks for information to be used in a possible river-crossing operation later in the month. Its second mission was to screen the front of the Division and Fifth Army and deny the enemy knowledge of the disposition and movements of our troops. To complete these missions an average of five combat patrols consisting of from eight to twenty men, and fourteen reconnaissance patrols of four to eight men, with an officer leading each patrol, covered prearranged routes each night.
In addition to the combat and reconnaissance patrols sent out by the infantry the 316th Engineer Battalion sent out reconnaissance parties to gather information essential to crossing the Arno. One such party reconnoitered the terrain for three nights and two days, 18-22 August 1944. They waded and swam the river at many times and places to determine depths and widths of the stream and gathered other information concerning the banks and approaches. From prisoners captured by combat patrols and from the reports of the reconnaissance parties of both the Engineers and the 362nd Infantry, the Division gradually built up a complete and accurate study of the disposition of enemy forces as well as a detailed analysis of the Arno River and its banks.
While the 362nd Infantry was patrolling the Arno, 1-13 August, the other two Regiments and Division Artillery concerned themselves with the care and cleaning of equipment, training, and study. On 5 August training was instituted in the 361st Infantry stressing marksmanship and physical conditioning designed to bring the 1,000 replacements which had come to the Regiment since 3 June up to Regimental standards. Instruction in scouting and patrolling, mines and mine warfare, and technical training for special units was also carried out. In the 363rd Infantry, essentially the same program of training was undertaken for those not actively engaged in the Regimental mission of screening the Division's right flank and maintaining contact with the Eighth Indian Division. In addition, every replacement had an opportunity to gain actual patrol experience under the leadership of experienced leaders. Division Artillery, in addition to activities similar to those of the Regiments, concentrated on the care and cleaning of their equipment. The armament section of the 791st Ordnance Company, with the help of 12 men from the automotive section, performed the six month's survey of the Division's artillery pieces.
The month of August was made memorable for the Division by visits of high Army and Navy officials and the celebration of the second anniversary of its activation. Within a week the 91st Division had the priviledge of meeting and entertaining the Secretary of the Navy, Mr. James Forrestal, and the Undersecretary of War, Mr. Robert Patterson. Secretary Forrestal, accompanied by Lt. General Mark Clark and other high ranking Army officers, inspected the Division Command Post, 9 August, and dined with General Livesay and the members of his General Staff.
Five days later Mr. Robert Patterson visited the Division. With his party he visited the Command Post of the 361st Infantry and presented decorations to six Officers and Enlisted Men and personally greeted a Guard of Honor of fifteen men who had previously been decorated by the Division for heroism. After reviewing the 2nd Battalion of the 361st and addressing the troops briefly, he was taken to the Division Command Post, where he and his party were the guests of General Livesay at luncheon.
On 15 August, the 91st Division celebrated the second anniversary of the reactivation of the Division. No formal ceremonies were held, but General Livesay, in a letter of greeting, expressed the quiet pride and satisfaction every member of the Division felt. He wrote, in part:
"The Division is now of age - it is no longer a Division in training. It is a Division that has met the enemy under the most trying circumstances of terrain and has driven him back with heavy casualties. I feel certain that the German high command has this Division registered as one of the first line fighting divisions. The campaign to the ARNO; the taking of LIVORNO, and the investment of PISA leave no doubt in my mind but that I have the honor to command an organization of top-class fighting men. With all of my pride in you, I am still inclined to sound a note of warning. Let us steel ourselves to further, more definite efforts. Let us improve ourselves in all of the things that we have learned so that nothing can stand successfully in the path of the Division."
On 13 August, arrangements were begun by II Corps for moving the 91st Division to a rear area for specialized training. Movement of various units took place at night during the period of 14-17 August. The 363rd Infantry, which had relieved the 362nd Infantry on the line at 130400, was, in turn, relieved by elements of the 85th Division during the night of 17 August, and command of the sector was officially relinquished at 170445. The Division gathered in an assembly area in the vicinity of San Gimignano and Gambassi, a training area for its next assignment, to concentrate especially on river-crossing techniques, operations in mountains with mule supply, and the reduction of fortified areas.
During the remainder of the month of August the 91st Division carried out the training program outlined for it by II Corps. Originally scheduled for ten days, the training period was extended into the month of September. The Engineers gave lectures and demonstrations on river crossing techniques, and full employment was made of the 11th Mule Group for training in loading and using mules in mountainous terrain. Firing ranges were set up by separate units and further practise in marksmanship was held. Extensive training in night problems was also conducted. This specialized training especially in the various phases of mountain warfare proved to be most valuable in the great September campaign against the Gothic Line.
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