The Red Bull in the Winter Line
Pantano, Italy November 29 - December 3, 1943
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In September 1943 the Allies invaded the southern Italian mainland at Salerno. Strategic planners had believed that the Germans would then withdraw north, toward the Alps. But the Germans did not withdraw, and in what became known as the Battle of the Winter Line, the Allies began their long fight up the Italian peninsula.
Iowa's 168th Infantry landed at Salerno some three weeks after the initial invasion. Part of the 34th Infantry Division (Red Bull) from Iowa, Minnesota, and South Dakota, and the first U.S. Army division to land in Europe, the 168th Infantry [Col. Frederick B. Butler, Regimental Commander] was already a veteran of the North African campaigns.
In Italy, the regiment went into action almost immediately, and on November 28, 1943, the 1st Battalion [Lt. Col. Wendall H. Langdon, Battalion Commander] was directed to seize Mount Pantano, a large mountain whose four knobs gave it a square shape. Situated in a draw between the four knobs was a full battalion of German defenders. Taking the first knob from the surprised Germans, Company A repulsed an almost immediate counterattack in hand-to-hand fighting. The rest of the battalion arrived, and for the next five days the men were under constant attack.
Company A's commander [Capt. Benjamin J. Butler], although wounded three times, led a bayonet charge against a German breakthough. Company B stopped seven German assault waves; grenade duels raged all around the perimeter. When their ammunition was exhausted, the Americans hurled rocks and C-ration cans at the Germans.
Because pack mules could only travel one-third of the way up the steep and rain-soaked slopes, supply was a critical problem. For two days there was nothing to drink but rain-water. To evacuate a casualty meant four to six hours on foot down the steep trail, under mortar fire, which forced the battalion surgeon to treat casualtiies on the actual firing line.
Despite the constant attacks, severe casualties, cold weather, and lack of ammunition and food, the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry, held its position for five days before it was relieved. For its gallantry, the unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. This was not the last Italian hillside the 168th and its sister regiments would take from the Germans; the 34th Infantry Division spent the rest of the war in Italy, and is credited with more actual days of combat than any other U.S. Army division. Today [written in 1988] the heritage of the 34th "Red Bull" Division is perpetuated by the 34th Brigade, 47th Infantry Division, Iowa Army National Guard.
"A National Guard Heritage Painting by Donna Neary."
NGB-88-198A, April 1988, U.S. G.P.O.:1988 218-334
Custodian: Chief of Military History, Fort McNair, Washington DC.
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