I know that I said this article would talk about the unit’s first combat days, a Roman holiday and visit with the Pope, but after putting this together, I realized that’s a lot in one article so I’ve split it up. Today we learn about the 517th Regimental Combat Team’s arrival in Italy. The other stories will follow.
Most of what you’ll read below is an excerpt from my forthcoming book: Honor Through Sacrifice, a chronicle of Gordon Lippman’s life. In this snippet, Gordon’s unit, the 517th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) arrives in Italy during mid-year, 1944. They were given a brief taste of combat while assisting the 36th Infantry Division, known as The Texas Army, but then after two weeks, the Allied high command withdrew them for a higher purpose.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
While the Allies continued making inroads on multiple fronts against the Germans in eastern Europe and north Africa, the Santa Rosa docked at Naples, Italy, on May 31. With highly trained recruits who had yet to see war up close, they were led by a cadre of seasoned soldiers. Naples was now under Allied control and was used as a disembarkation point for arriving troops and equipment.
Troopers filed down gangplanks into waiting railroad cars and were carried to a staging area in the Neapolitan suburb of Bagnoli. En route, Colonel Graves was handed an order directing the regiment to take part in the attack from Valmontone to Rome the next day.
The 517th men were ready to go, but only with small arms – rifles and sidearms. Since crew-served weapons, artillery and vehicles had been loaded separately when they left America, the Regiment would not have its full complement of weapons and equipment off-loaded from the ship for another couple of days. After this was pointed out, the order was cancelled and the regiment moved on to set up camp in “The Crater,” the bed of a long-extinct volcano, Agnano.
The Crater is situated in the Campi Flegrei volcanic region just west of Naples. The crater is about four miles in circumference, celebrated by the ancient Greeks and Romans for its hot springs and the six-story Termae Anianae (thermal baths) built for visitors.
The men took some time to get accustomed to Italy, secure their gear and prepare for the coming battle. This was a time of great emotional anxiety, anticipation, and relief for some that the long stormy North Atlantic boat ride from America’s East Coast was over. They were on European soil now, getting ready to meet the formidable German Wehrmacht, which was focused on the imminent invasion of the French coast facing Britain and had just lost a major battle at Anzio.
Next up: First Days In Combat