ROME-ARNO CAMPAIGN (January 22 - September 9, 1944)
The 100th and the 442nd at Belvedere, June - September 1944
In April 1944, while the 100th Infantry Battalion fought from Anzio to Rome, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team left Camp Shelby, sailing from the United States to Italy. The 442nd landed at the bombed-out harbor of Naples in June and then sailed north to Anzio. On June 11, the 442nd was attached to the 34th Division and joined up with the 100th at Civitavecchia, a coastal town 40 miles northwest of Rome.1
The men of the 442nd had heard about the 100th Battalion and its excellent combat record. In fact, because of its outstanding reputation and strong sense of identity, authorities allowed the 100th Battalion to retain its numerical designation, instead of naming it as the first of the three battalions of the 442nd.2
The 442nd had one of the best training records back in the States. The newcomers were anxious to prove themselves in battle. On June 26, 1944, they got their chance. Their objective was the town of Belvedere. A crack SS motorized battalion held the high ground and dominated the vital road to Sassetta.3 The 100th Battalion was kept in reserve, and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions moved out.
Due to communication problems, F Company attacked an hour earlier than the rest of the companies.4 Suddenly, boom! A German tiger tank, mounted with an 88 mm Flak, fired on the men. The 88 was a feared weapon, and rightly so. It could blast an airplane or follow a single soldier across a field and hit him.5 The Nisei sought cover as best they could, but the 88 wounded many of them.6
Private First Class Kiyoshi Muranaga and his platoon were in an exposed position on a hill. Manning a 60 mm mortar alone, Muranaga decided to take out the 88. He fired continuously and with great accuracy. However, once aware of the source of fire, the enemies turned on Muranaga and killed him instantly with a direct hit. Nevertheless, Muranaga had produced such accurate fire that the tank withdrew. He was killed in action, but his bravery saved many F Company men.7 He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross, which was later upgraded to a Medal of Honor in June 2000.
The Germans also pinned down E, G and L Companies for most of the day.8 I and K Companies were in trouble, too. The 442nd’s service and cannon companies came under heavy fire. However, the cannon company was able to destroy two German tanks.
Like Muranaga, the men fought with valor and survived on instinct.9 Their “book learning” back in the States could not prepare them for the harsh battle realities in Europe. Yet they learned quickly in the midst of combat.10 They came to distinguish the sounds of enemy weapons. The German machine guns were faster and their rifles were higher pitched. The 100th had also given them valuable advice in the two weeks before the battle. The men taught them to watch for booby traps when they took over a German trench.
That afternoon, the 100th went into action. The 100th quickly developed an efficient plan. The men circled wide to the north of Belvedere. C Company blocked the entrance to the town. A Company blocked the exit. B Company was on the high ground, above the Germans who were blasting the 2nd Battalion. B Company launched a surprise attack on the German’s exposed east flank. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions were freed. The speed and lethal efficiency of the 100th’s drive disrupted the entire German battalion. As the Germans fled in disorder, C Company drove them toward A Company’s trap.
In three hours, the men in the 100th seized a town, and destroyed an entire SS battalion. They killed at least 178 enemy soldiers, wounded 20, captured 73, and forced the remaining to surrender.11 They themselves suffered only four dead and seven wounded.12 They also captured or destroyed large numbers of enemy weapons, vehicles and materials, including jeeps, tanks, and artillery.13 For their performance at Belvedere and Sassetta, the 100th Battalion (Separate) earned a Presidential Unit Citation, the highest possible award for a unit, given for acts of extraordinary heroism against enemy forces.
In the months to come, the 100th would earn two more Presidential Unit Citations.
Now, the 100th was part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese American unit lead primarily by Caucasian officers. The team included the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, the 232nd Combat Engineer Company, an anti-tank company, a cannon company, a medical detachment, a service company, headquarters companies, the 206th Army Ground Force Band, and the 100th, 2nd and 3rd Infantry Battalions.
The Nisei from the 100th/442nd RCT formed the unit that would later become the most decorated in US military history for its size and length of service.
1Lyn Crost, Honor by Fire: Japanese Americans at War in Europe and the Pacific (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 147.
2See Lyn Crost, "Hawaii's Legendary Battalion," 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans Education Center, accessed on January 14, 2015, http://www.100thbattalion.org/archives/newspaper-articles/hawaii-herald/hawaiis-legendary-battalion/, and Rudi Williams, "The 'Go for Broke' Regiment Lives Duty, Honor, Country," Department of Defense News, May 25, 2000, accessed on January 14, 2015, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=45180.
3Chester Tanaka, Go For Broke: A Pictorial History of the Japanese-American 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1997), p. 51.
4Dorothy Matsuo, Boyhood to War: History and Anecdotes of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (Honolulu, HI: Mutual Pub. Co., 1992), p. 92.
6James M. Hanley, A Matter of Honor: A Memoire (Springfield, MA: Vantage Press, 1995), p. 33.
7"Kiyoshi K. Muranaga," Military Times Hall of Valor, accessed on January 14, 2015, http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=2172.
8Masayo Umezawa Duus, Unlikely Liberators: The Men of the 100th and 442nd, trans. by Peter Duus (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2006), p. 157.
9Matsuo, pp. 92-93.
10442nd Regimental Combat Team, The Story of the 442nd Combat Team Composed of 442nd Infantry Regiment, 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, 232nd Combat Engineer Company (U.S. Army Mediterranean Theater of Operations Information-Education Section), 1945, p. 18. From Mitsuye Yamada Papers, UC Irvine Collections, accessed on January 14, 2015, http://content.cdlib.org/view?docId=hb2s2004jj;NAAN=13030&doc.view=frames&chunk.id=div00006&toc.depth=1&toc.id=&brand=calisphere.
11Crost, p. 149; "Battle of Belvedere and on to the Arno," 100th Battalion Veterans Organization, accessed on January 15, 2015, http://www.100thbattalion.org/wp-content/uploads/Battle-of-Belvedere-and-on-to-the-Arno.pdf, p. 127; Orville C. Shirey and Bill Yenne cite 86 captured. See Shirey, Americans: The Story of the 442nd Combat Team (Washington, DC: Infantry Journal Press, 1947), p. 33; and Yenne, Rising Sons: The Japanese American GIs Who Fought for the United States in World War II (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2007), p. 104.
12Sgt. James P. O'Neill lists one dead and eight wounded, "The Battle at Belvedere," 100th Battalion Veterans Center, accessed on January 15, 2015, http://www.100thbattalion.org/archives/puka-puka-parades/european-campaigns/italian-campaign/the-battle-of-belvedere/.
13Duus, p. 157.
ORAL HISTORY CLIPS
625 James Oura
Starts on Tape Four, between 0 and 2 minute marks
O.K. Belvedere is our . . . sort of our first combat and to get to Belvedere ---see “100th” was experienced, you know, so they captured their objective . . .fast. But we in return is just like the “newcomers”. So I remember we have to march all night long to get to that place. And you be surprised what a all-night march is like. If there is a short break . . . if the line should sort of stall . . . where the front pauses . . . so the rear sort of stall also. Then you see guys just fall and snore . . . that bad, yeah. But it was a long march that we had to do in the evening . . . overnight to get to our objective. That was a deal.
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