The invasion of Normandy was getting closer and the Germans, not knowing where the Allies would hit them, knew that an invasion was imminent and concentrated their best soldiers, tanks and attention on the coast and central France. I’ll paraphrase Winston Churchill’s remarks, “before 1942 the Allies never won a victory, and after 1942 they never suffered a defeat.”
It was into the cloudy, overcast weather days in early June of 1944 that the inevitable invasion battle plan was cast with propaganda, deception and the whole world in anticipation of this big push.
The Allies were anxious about whether or not their choice of landings would be right, and the Germans, losing Italy and North Africa, were anxious about exactly where this onslaught of man-power, equipment and naval strength would hit them. All eyes were fixed on Normandy. The formidable Atlantic Wall was ready, the beaches were prepared to slow down the Allies, the feared Panzer tank divisions were fueled up, loaded with ammunition and ready to fight!
While all of that preparation and activity was going on in western Europe, the Allies in Italy had fought their way up the Italian boot, overwhelming the Italian Army and pushing the Wehrmacht up into the northern mountains heading toward the Alps.
Two weeks after landing in Naples, Gordon and his fellow troopers were given orders to strike camp and board LST’s (Landing Ship, Tank boats) for the short ride up to Civitavecchia, a coastal town northwest of Rome.
Another day at sea!
The Port of Civitavecchia retained some of its original features, like the Roman Dock and a 16th-century Michelangelo designed Fort. After landing, then mounting trucks for the long ride and a short foot march on June 17th, they arrived just south of Grosseto. With all of the preparations, year plus of training, boat rides, shipboard boredom, delays and anticipation, these guys were ready to get into a fight!
June 18 witnessed the Regimental Combat Team’s first day of combat and the regiment fought like professional soldiers while suffering about 50 casualties. They inflicted several times that number of casualties on the enemy and the next seven days were spent in almost continuous movement and conflict.
The Wehrmacht tried to make an orderly withdrawal, but the Americans pressed them hard. For the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, this period involved a continuous 24-hour-a-day operation. Gun batteries continually leap-frogged each other, usually with two batteries remaining in position and firing, while the other two were advancing to help push the American line forward.
The 2nd Battalion captured the hilltop village of Montesario on June 19. The 3rd Battalion moved out on the left through Montepescali against light resistance, taking Sticciano with 14 prisoners.
Meanwhile, Gordon’s unit, the 1st Battalion with Lieutenant Colonel “Wild Bill” Boyle leading the way, had taken Monte Peloso.
The 517th bivouacked overnight on June 22-23 on a ridgeline south of Gavorrano.
The next morning, they moved across the Piombino Valley and closed into an assembly area.
On June 24, the 2nd Battalion entered the eastern outskirts of Follonica under heavy artillery and Nebelwerfer (smoke mortar) fire by the enemy.”
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