NORTH APENNINES (September 10, 1944 - April 4, 1945) AND PO VALLEY (April 5 - May 8, 1945) CAMPAIGNS
The 100th/442nd (less the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion) at The Gothic Line, March 25 - May 1945
On March 25, 1945, when the 442nd Regimental Combat Team arrived in Pisa, Italy, some of the soldiers thought, "Here we go again."
Last summer, the 442nd had liberated Pisa. Now, eight months later, the Nisei were back. But during the Nisei's absence the Allies had not budged in the Apennine Mountains.1
The saw-toothed Apennines rose up from the Ligurian Sea. Starting from the northeast, the peaks hugged the east coast of Italy and stretched diagonally southward across the Italian boot. To the west, on the other side of the mountains, was the wide, flat Po River Valley that led up to the Austrian Alps-the last barrier to Germany.
For nine months, German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring directed the construction of the Gothic Line along the summits of the northern regions of the Apennines. The Todt Organization, a civil and military engineer construction company named after its founder, Fritz Todt, and known for its fortifications at Monte Cassino, used 15,000 Italian slave laborers and recruits to build fortifications along the line, maximizing the use of the natural terrain.2 They drilled into the solid rock to make gun pits and trenches, which they reinforced with concrete. They built more than 2,300 machine gun nests with interlocking fire.3
The Allies faced steep marble mountains, some rising 3,000 feet high, bare of vegetation save for scanty scrub growth. Starting from the southwest and zigzagging northeast, the hills were known as Georgia; Florida; Ohio 1, 2, 3; Cerreto; Folgorito; Carchio; and Belvedere. Allied planes air-bombed it and Allied artillery blasted it, but they could not crack the Gothic Line.
Now, the 442nd, under General Mark Clark's Fifth Army, 92nd Infantry Division, was ordered to do it. But how? The Germans, safe and snug in their mountaintop observation posts, could see troops coming from miles away.
The 442nd Regiment's Commander, Colonel Virgil Miller, and the battalion commanders and their staff went over possible plans. Miller, Lieutenant Colonel James Conley (100th Battalion Commander) and Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Pursall (3rd Battalion Commander) made their decision. The plan was to conceal the Nisei approach by moving at night, and then make a surprise pincers attack at dawn.
On the night of April 3, the 100th Battalion moved west of Cerreto. Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion hiked eastward all night to the village of Azzano, southeast of Folgorito. The Italian partisans guided them through the mountainous terrain. The next day, the battalions hid.
When darkness fell, the 100th moved toward Florida hill undetected. Meanwhile, the 3rd Battalion climbed toward the saddle between Folgorito and Carchio. For eight hours, I and L Company men plus M Company machine-gunners scaled the 60-degree incline. Laden with packs and ammunition, they crawled up the steep, slippery, shale-encrusted slopes. One man fell 300 feet, but didn't utter a sound.4 The success of the entire operation hinged on silence and secrecy.
By dawn on April 5, they reached the top, and were looking into the backs of the German emplacements. Suddenly, bam! The Germans were surprised with a wake-up call. The Nisei killed and captured enemy soldiers and quickly seized gun positions.
The 3rd Battalion attacked across the mountaintops, moving westward. L Company drove off a sharp counterattack and reached the base of Folgorito. I Company drove the enemy into the recesses of Carchio.
At the same time, the 100th Battalion attacked eastward, squeezing the German defenses between the two battalions. The 100th's A Company faced minefields and heavy grenade and machine gun fire.
Private First Class Sadao Munemori, A Company, made a frontal, one-man attack through heavy fire and took out two machine gun nests. As Munemori returned to take cover in a crater with two squad members, a grenade bounced off his helmet. The live grenade rolled toward his helpless squad members. Without hesitation, he dove on the grenade and smothered the blast with his own body. By his swift and supremely heroic actions, he saved the lives of two men at the cost of his own.5 He was four months away from his 23rd birthday.
In 32 minutes, the Nisei had driven the Germans from their entrenchments.6 But now they were awake. They pounded K Company and the mortar platoon of M Company with heavy mortar fire, killing three Nisei and wounding 40 more.7
The battle for the ridges raged on. Allied mortar and artillery fire failed to dent the well-constructed emplacements. The 442nd had to filter through heavy fire to hand-grenade range and destroy the fiercely defended bunkers one by one. The Nisei also faced a new threat: German Schu-mines. These hard-to-detect mines caused more than half of the 100th's casualties.
By the night of April 6, the 100th and 3rd Battalions had closed in from opposite directions and seized Cerreto. The 2nd Battalion's F Company took Carchio. The Nisei had also seized hills Georgia, Ohio 1, 2, 3 and Folgorito.8
On April 7, the 2nd Battalion pushed toward the wide rolling top of Belvedere. Veteran troops from the formidable Kesselring Machine Gun Battalion battered the attackers. The crack Nazi battalion wasn't giving up ground. F Company Technical Sergeant Yukio Okutsu broke the deadlock. Twenty-four year old Okutsu single-handedly knocked out three machine gun nests. At the third, he captured four men. His heroism earned him a Distinguished Service Cross.9
By nightfall, the last of the ridges were in the 442nd's hands. From April 4-8, the 442nd advanced more than 2.5 miles. The 232nd Combat Engineer Company worked night and day to support the swift-moving infantry. The 232nd cleared debris, built bridges and defused 200 mines, all under dangerous enemy fire. For three days in mid-April, the engineers stopped bulldozing and minesweeping and became infantrymen on La Bandita Ridge. Together with C Company, they fought a strong German counterattack. In this action, 10 C Company men, several engineers and Captain Pershing Nakada, commander of the 232nd, were wounded.
From April 9-18, the Nisei continued to push northeast, climbing up and down the 3,000-foot peaks, fighting Germans and taking towns until they arrived south of Aulla. The Nazis were bitterly defending the high ground at Mount Nebbione and the Aulla road junction as it was the last remaining German escape route into the Po Valley.
From April 20-22, the 442nd attacked. Third Battalion's K Company battled to seize the town of Tendola. K Company Private Joe Hayashi, an acting squad leader, single-handedly silenced three machine gun nests. As he pursued more Germans, he was killed by machine pistol fire. For his bravery, he was posthumously awarded a Distinguished Service Cross.10
Meanwhile, on a fortified ridge called Colle Musatello, Second Lieutenant Daniel Inouye of 2nd Battalion's E Company took out two machine gun nests. Wounded in the stomach, he dragged himself toward a third nest. He pulled a grenade pin and was about to throw it when his arm was torn apart by shrapnel. Using his good arm, he extracted the live grenade from his shattered fingers and threw it at the third machine gun nest, destroying it. He then shot the surviving German gunners using his Tommy gun, while his right arm flapped uselessly against his side. Again, German gunfire wounded Inouye, but all through the fight he refused help and urged his men to charge the hill.11 He was just 20 years old when his act of extraordinary valor earned him a Distinguished Service Cross.
Two days later, the 2nd Battalion men pushed toward the village of Pariana but met stiff resistance from the Bersagliere, a crack Italian mountain unit made up of diehard Fascists. E and G Companies spread out, attacking frontally as well as east and west and eventually killed four bersaglieri and took 135 as prisoners.
On April 25, the 2nd Battalion drove up from the west and a special task force of B and F Companies led by Major Mitsuyoshi “Mits” Fukuda poured in from the east. Aulla finally fell.
The Germans who had fought so skillfully and bitterly from Salerno to the Po were finished. They surrendered by the hundreds. On May 2, 1945, all German forces in Italy officially surrendered.
From the Po Valley campaign, 101 Nisei soldiers died, 922 were wounded, and three were missing in action.12
Munemori was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor, the only Nisei at the time to receive the nation's highest military honor. More than 50 years later, the Distinguished Service Crosses earned by Inouye, Okutsu, and Hayashi were upgraded to Medals of Honor.
For their actions in the Apennines, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 232nd Combat Engineer Company were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
It was signed by Chief of Staff Dwight Eisenhower, who himself had refused the 100th Battalion upon their deployment to Europe, doubting the men's ability and their loyalty. It read: "The successful accomplishment of this mission turned a diversionary action into a full scale and victorious offensive, which played an important part in the final destruction of the German armies in Italy."13
There was no longer any question about the loyalty and combat skill of the 442nd.
1Chester Tanaka, Go For Broke: A Pictorial History of the Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442d Regimental Combat Team (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 119.
2Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 251.
3C. Peter Chen, "Gothic Line Offensive," World War II Database, accessed on January 13, 2015, http://ww2db.com/battle_spec.php?battle_id=315.
4Dorothy Matsuo, Boyhood to War: History and Anecdotes of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Honolulu, HI: Mutual Pub. Co., 1992), p. 125.
5Thomas A. Popa, "Po Valley: US Army Campaigns of World War II," US Army Center of Military History, last updated October 3, 2003, http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/po/72-33.htm.
6Abbie Lynn Salyers, The Internment of Memory: Forgetting and Remembering the Japanese American World War II Experience (Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest, 2009), pp. 71-72.
7James Hanley, A Matter of Honor (Springfield, MA: Vantage Press, 1995), p. 83.
8James M. McCaffrey, Going for Broke: Japanese American Soldiers in the War Against Nazi Germany (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2013), p. 348.
9"Yukio Okutsu," Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed on January 13, 2015, http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=3413.
10"Private Joe Hayashi," Asian Pacific American Medal of Honor Recipients, US Army Center of Military History, last updated June 27, 2011, accessed on January 13, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/ap-moh_citations.html#Hayashi-J.
11"Second Lieutenant Daniel K. Inouye," Asian Pacific American Medal of Honor Recipients, US Army Center of Military History, last updated June 27, 2011, accessed on January 13, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/html/moh/ap-moh_citations.html#Inouye.
12"Facts About the 442nd," The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, accessed on January 13, 2015, http://www.the442.org/442ndfacts.html.
13"Presidential Unit Citations (ARMY) Awarded to: 100th Battalion & 442nd Regimental Combat Team," US Army Center of Military History, last updated November 19, 2010, accessed January 13, 2015, http://www.history.army.mil/html/topics/apam/puc.html#232engco.
ORAL HISTORY CLIPS
183A Rudy Tokiwa
Starts on Tape Six, between 6 and 8 minute marks
What time---when the men went to go scale the cliff to go the back side of the Germans and surprise them, what time did the men move out, and what---were you on that march?
No, I was lucky. I was the guy that was sitting there waiting. But they did it just before dusk.
Can you tell me what actually occurred, what they did?
Well, what they did was they tried to---what they did, they tried to be as quiet as they can. And they didn't encounter them at the line, they went behind 'em, then they encountered them. And, you know, if you're the enemy, you're getting it from the front side, you're getting it from the back side; what the hell, you're surrounded. And that was what the whole idea was.
Now, how did they get to the back side? What did---it was a---it's a pretty treacherous way to get to them, wasn't it?
Yeah. Well, and the worst part of it all had to be done during that night. But that was one thing the 100th/442nd was good at was getting behind the Germans.
I heard that they had to climb up the cliff and maintain silence?
Yeah, and the cliff . . .
Can you tell me about that?
The cliff was like that. And what you did was you looked for little handholds and some place that you can poke your toe into and that's the way you went up. And so the Germans actually didn't expect us to come up that way. So it was something that, since they didn't expect it, they didn't have enough guys back there to guard against it. And that's the reason why, when the group got over the top, the Germans had no place to go.
So after this month and a half of siege with the other troops once the 100th/442nd got there, how long did it take to break through?
Oh, we broke through in two days. That was the whole thing, getting behind them in the middle of the night.
And what was the significance of the Gothic Line?
Well, that was, the Gothic Line was one of Germany's strongholds. And, it was always felt that if we could break the Gothic Line you broke the Germans back. So that's what it's all---the Gothic Line was all about.
684 Enoch Kanaya
Starts on Tape Two, between 46 and 48 minute marks
And about a week later, we started the assault on the Gothic Line.
Okay, for anybody who doesn't know, explain to us what is the Gothic Line?
Gothic Line is a mountain range in Northern Italy. It goes from east to west, and the Germans held that line to protect the rest of the Italian country. And from what I heard, several divisions tried to penetrate that Gothic Line during the summer or during the winter and summer, and they couldn't do it. They got pushed back every time. So, I guess Eisenhower and General Mark Clark, the commanding general of the Fifth Army in Italy, thought that maybe the 442nd could do something about it. So Mark Clark asked Eisenhower to have the 442nd shipped back to Italy again, because they did a pretty good job when they were there the first time. So that's what happened.
How tough was that Gothic Line? How strong was it?
Well, it was defended, you know, they had all the high, high points in the---you couldn't penetrate that Gothic Line from the front, it was too heavily defended. So, our officers, colonels and generals, [48:00] they thought that maybe we can sneak through the mountain, undetected, at night and climb the mountain from the rear. So that's what we did. The whole regiment sneaked through the mountain with guides, we had partisan guides, they showed us how to get through all those little nooks and crannies, and we got to a spot where we had to climb almost straight up the mountain. It took us over eight hours to climb the mountain.
Describe climbing this mountain in more detail. How do you keep your balance, how much weight is on you, equipment, rifle, I mean, put me there?
Oh, you just have to grab whatever you could hang on to and just keep climbing, and hope that no one falls in the front of you, and somehow, I don't know how we did it, but we all made it.
How clearly could you see?
Not very far; it was at night. So that---maybe that kind of helped because we weren't too afraid, we couldn't see down, we didn't know how high we were, so we just kept climbing up, yeah, and---but we---somehow we got up there.
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