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Lone Sentry: Unit History: 91st Infantry Division

 

    
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Chapter V.
NORTH OF FUTA PASS
 
AFTER A BRIEF HALT at the Santerno River during which the Regiments cleaned and replenished their equipment, and the troops, so far as was possible, rested and cleaned up, the Division renewed its drive north. The terrain ahead was notably different from what it had fought through. Instead of a range of mountains standing like a wall before them, they now fought on a high rolling plateau from which rose barren rocky mountains with little cover and no concealment. The enemy could be routed from his positions only by clinging to a rock with one hand and prying him loose with a bayonet held in the other. With good enemy observation of the entire Division sector and no covered routes of approach, the naturally defensive features of the terrain made the area stronger, in that respect, than the Gothic Line.
 
Sunny Italy?
 
     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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A second factor slowed the advance and made the life of the individual soldier miserable. Late in September the famous Italian rain, cold, and fog set in. Intermittently during October fog blanketed the Apennines concealing the enemy, hampering communications, and reducing the effectiveness of the artillery. The almost constant rain drenched the infantryman and turned the roads into rivers of mud and installations into quagmires. Under these handicaps the fighting was most difficult, but the Division continued to advance.
The strategy of the enemy was to make each of these mountains a strong delaying position while they worked feverishly to strengthen their next main defensive line, the so-called Ceasar Line, along an escarpment running east and west of Livergnano. Thus, the Division's advance became a steady progress forward interrupted by short periods of savage fighting, usually centering about a town or mountain. On 24 September the 361st Infantry captured M. Beni and on 25 September the 363rd Infantry captured M. Freddi. Three days later the 361st Infantry had seized M. Oggioli, opening the way to an advance, slowed only by the fog, to the Monghidoro line.
 
Monghidoro
 
This excellently-prepared line held up the infantry a day while the artillery softened up the positions for assault. On 1 October the Division Artillery fired 10,587 rounds while the 362nd and 363rd Infantries worked forward slowly. The enemy Main Line of Resistance in the 363rd Infantry sector was overrun at 1300, but the enemy fell back slowly. The next afternoon Monghidoro fell. With the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, 362nd Infantry, flanking the town on the right, and the 363rd Infantry exerting pressure on the left, the 1st Battalion, 362nd Infantry, supported by tanks, drove straight up Highway 65 into the town. The 363rd Infantry, driving on the left, captured Montepiano late the same night.
     
 
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[Sasso di Castro -- a terrain obstacle north of Futa Pass]
Sasso di Castro -- a terrain obstacle north of Futa Pass
 
     
 
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Thus at the end of 2 October the Monghidoro-Montepiano defenses had been completely overrun. General Keyes expressed his pleasure at the Division's swift success in overrunning the important positions when be telegraphed General Livesay:
"Congratulations upon the capture of Montepiano and Monghidoro. The continued drive of the 91st against a stubborn enemy and despite the adverse elements is a tribute to your fine division."
Loiano
 
The enemy fell back rapidly to their next defensive position at Loiano, with the 91st swiftly following their retreat. On 5 October, under a rolling barrage the 362nd Infantry captured the town and M. Bastia, the peak which dominates it. On either side of the position the whole line surged forward.
 
The Fight in the Fog
 
But at this point the terrain and the weather combined to slow the advance considerably. The enemy exploited both these advantages shrewdly. The hilly, open countryside from Loiano to Livergnano is cut by spurs running generally in a north-south direction which command the ravines and draws. For the enemy the terrain afforded unlimited opportunities for delaying positions and elastic defense. For the men of the 91st attacking north the mountains and valleys would normally have been difficult to fight over, but made slippery and muddy by the fall rains, it challenged their endurance and courage. Fog blanketed the valleys and enemy positions were discovered only by accident. Firefights flared in fog- isolated areas across the entire front.
     
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On the left of Highway 65 the 362nd Infantry fought slowly forward, taking M. Castellari by scaling it with rope ladders on the dark, foggy night of 9 October, and occupying La Guarda. On the right, the 361st Infantry captured Trebbo and pushed under the escarpment at Prato di Magnano. Company I making its way carefully through the fog succeeded in moving behind enemy positions and cutting the highway at La Fortuna, 2,000 yards behind the enemy lines. In the foggy darkness many small parties of enemy were trapped moving down the highway, and either killed or captured.
 
[Men of the 91st attend mass in a battered church near the front]
Men of the 91st attend mass in a battered church near the front
     
 
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The Livergnano Escarpment
 
The Division had come to the most formidable natural barrier between the Santerno and the Po, a rocky escarpment rising at some points over 1,800 feet high. In places, especially in the upper half of the cliff, it is a perpendicular rock wall. From the rock rim the enemy commanded every approach from the south. Rising above the rim was a lateral series of hills: 544 and 603, dominating Highway 65; 504, 481, 592, and 487. Each one was a prepared strong point from which the high plateau lying behind the rock rim could be covered with machine gun and mortar fire. As the Division faced this escarpment it was considerably in advance of its adjacent units, exposed on the right to fire from S. Maria di Zena and M. delle Formiche and on the left to fire directed from M. Adone.
 
[A tank destroyer fires in support of assaulting infantry]
A tank destroyer fires in support of assaulting infantry
 
     
 
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[A carrying party brings up supplies to front line troops]
A carrying party brings up supplies to front line troops
 
Only two breaks in the wall existed by which the plateau could be reached. One lay just north of Bigallo and the other was a cut at Livergnano through which Highway 65 runs. Accordingly the 2nd Battalion, 361st Infantry was ordered to move east to the cut north of Bigallo, make its way over this escarpment and then move westward to seize in succession Hills 592,504 and 481. On the left, the 1st Battalion was ordered to attack Livergnano and neutralize its twin sentinels, Hills 544 and 603.
     
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[Livergnano]
Livergnano
 
     
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The fighting of the next few days was the most grinding and heartbreaking the 91st Division has ever known. On the right the 2nd Battalion started up the cut north of Bigallo. There was no trail at this point, but it was possible by sheer scaling and climbing to reach the plateau. Riflemen slung their rifles over their shoulders and "hung and crawled with their fingers and toes." The machine gunners disassembled their weapons and each squad member carried parts in his pockets or pack. At one point on the way, Companies E and G had to cross a narrow ledge which the enemy had zeroed in. Only by running a few men across at a time did the companies clear the obstacle and make their way forward.
 
"Little Cassino"
 
On the left, Company K entered Livergnano only to be caught in a trap. Herded by the bands of fire of cunningly placed machine guns, the company was trapped in a building which the Germans then systematically demolished by point-blank tank fire. Despite desperate attempts by other companies to fight their way to them, and by the full power of the artillery to blast the enemy out of the town, only a few of the company escaped to tell their story. Livergnano became a blazing inferno shelled from both sides. Companies A and C fought a see-saw battle up Hill 554 while Company B inched its way grimly up Hill 603.
     
 
 
 
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Once on top of the escarpment near Casole, Companies E and G were fired on and the companies deployed to engage the enemy. While the fight was in progress the enemy infiltrated around the flanks under cover of darkness, foliage and terrain features, and the companies found themselves located at the bottom of a "tilted saucer" with high ground completely surrounding them and the enemy occupying positions all along this high ground. To assist the push on the right General Livesay ordered the 363rd .Infantry committed on the right. Slowly the Regiment fought its way forward, cleaning out pockets of resistance before Bigallo and at Ca Parma and Ca Parisi. During the night of 11-12 October the 1st Battalion scaled the escarpment and reinforced the two companies virtually isolated on the rock rim.
While the infantry fought savagely on the ground, the artillery and the air support blasted enemy strong points. The artillery fired 8,400 rounds of all types, most of them in an arc about Livergnano. This artillery power was augmented by position firing by tank destroyers. These blasted the caves and houses of Livergnano and machine gun and mortar emplacements. In the air medium bombers attacked bridges and supply dumps, while fighter bombers flew 250 sorties against troop concentrations and gun areas.
 
On the Top
 
For the attack at 0600, 13 October the artillery laid down a tremendous concentration of 2,120 rounds in 16 minutes. There was better progress all across the Division front during the day, and it became clear that the enemy had at last begun to withdraw under the steady pounding they had received from the bombers, the artillery, and the infantry. Gradually the whole line fell back. Hills 603 and 544 were taken and Livergnano occupied, despite the continued shelling. justifyspacerlong
     
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[Routes of Advance Across Livergnano Escarpment, October 1944]
Routes of Advance Across Livergnano Escarpment, October 1944
 
The 2nd Battalion slowly fought its way northwest, cleaning out the positions along the rim of the escarpment. It rejoined the rest of the 361st Infantry on Highway 65 north of Livergnano. The 363rd Infantry fanned out from the east cut and occupied the right sector of the Division front.
     
 
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[Highway 65 in Winter]
Highway 65 in Winter
 
     
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Thus at the end of the day the lines had been straightened and the flanks secured. With Casolina on the left, Querceta on the right and Hill 603 in the center in the Division's hands, the enemy line, referred to by many of the captured prisoners as the Caesar Line, had been overrun and the escarpment had been conquered. Enemy casualties had been heavy, and many prisoners had been taken -- 225 on 12-13 October.
 
Four Months of Combat
 
Thus the 91st Division's first four months of combat during World War II came to a close. During that time it had fought from Rome to Livergnano. From the Gustav Line to the Caesar Line. It captured Chianni, Pontedera, Leghorn, Pisa, Monticelli, M. Calvi, M. Beni, M. Freddi, M. Oggioli, Monghidoro, Loiano, Livergnano. It broke through the Gothic Line, the Berta Line and the Caesar Line. Three times it was the first unit of Fifth Army to achieve the Army objective -- on 18 July at Leghorn, on 23 July at Pisa, and on 17 September at Monticelli.
     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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But these are only the names the public knows. These are the places the spotlight has caught. But there are hundreds of houses, crossroads, hills and draws where the men of the 91st fought and died to make the capture of more famous places possible. There are miles of road the Engineers swept for mines, scores of streams they bridged or by-passed so the Division could move forward. There are miles of roads, dusty or muddy, frozen hard or running with water over which the service forces brought food and ammunition to the support of the drive. And sometimes there were no roads, and men and mules carried supplies over narrow precipitous trails. Over the same trails and roads the litter bearers evacuated the wounded swiftly and skillfully. Behind these names lies the courage, determination and combat wisdom of each individual infantryman and each individual artilleryman. Again and again the story repeats itself: the artillery blasted a path for the infantry, drove the enemy into his holes; the infantry followed up to dig the dazed and shaken enemy from the holes. Behind these names lies the skill, the planning, the labor and the courage of every man in the Division.
Under the command of General Livesay the 91st Division has made a name for itself as one of the great fighting outfits of the Army. It is feared and respected by the enemy, praised and admired by its allies. It has been a spearhead in every campaign it has taken part in. The 91st Division is a team, a great fighting team of which every man in the Division is a part. Itís a great fighting Division; it has made history and it will make history, until the peace is won.
     
 
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[Another Round toward Victory!]
Another Round toward Victory!
 
 
 
 
 
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