Which History Was 'Better', 'Truer'?

2nd Bn, 133rd Inf Regt • 26/27 April 1944
San Pietro in Cerro, Italy

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Narrative History
Second Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment
26-27 April 1945
Battle of San Pietro in Cerro, Italy

There is no such thing as a 'true' history. They are all colored by when, where, and by whom they are written. What follows are the official records of two days in combat; the one on the left written soon afterward by an officer who seems to have been close to the point of command throughout the action, the other on the right compiled perhaps a month later by a Regimental Historian from a variety of reports and revisions.

At the end, you'll find some more thoughts on the truth of history. But for now we give you the histories as written in 1945.


 

HISTORY 133RD INFANTRY
34TH INFANTRY DIVISION
From 1 April 1945 to 30 April 1945, inclusive.

(The original Regimental Monthly Narrative Report noted the report for 2nd Battalion on 27 April 1945 was based on an account by 2nd Lt. Ronald C. Davis, Company H.)


Change in Regimental History
[covering 26-27 April 1945]

6 July 1945: "The original narrative for this action as submitted was incorrect because of erroneous information given to the historian:.
s/ Dee M White, Col AGD, Adjutant General, 88th Infantry Division


Troops move by truck at 1130 hours [26 April 1945] to assembly area near Fidenza, 10 miles up Highway 9 from Parma. Arriving at 1300 hours, Company E is dispatched to clear enemy snipers from several houses in the area. Companies F and G move northwest, their objective Monticelli.

At nightfall, 26 April 1945, the second battalion was moving on foot through the flat farmland [north]west of Fidenza, working steadily northward toward Monticelli, Italy. Light rain was falling and the troops were moving with great caution, as several reports from Italian citizens indicated large groups of German troops traveling in the region. A telephone line was laid continuously along the road as the column progressed.

Company "E" was dispatched to investigate a report of enemy activity in a small village several miles east of the route, and the remaining companies of the battalion entered Cortemaggiore at about 2400 hours.

After midnight [26-27 April 1945] patrols were sent to clear the houses in S. Pietro in Cerro; one German was captured. He said that the enemy forces were moving a short distance in front of the battalion. He also declared that another German regiment would be through the town before daylight.

Company "F" took the leading position of the battalion column and, in heavy rain, the troops moved northward to a tiny cross-roads town, San Pietro in Cerro. In this town a momentary halt was made, while our troops searched the buildings, capturing one German soldier.

The organic transportation of the battalion and Company "E" entered the town at this time and joined the main body. The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Timothy F. Horan, ordered the battalion command post group to move to Cortemaggiore.

At S. Pietro in Cerro (K813115) civilians told Lieutenant-Colonel Horan, battalion commander, that some 1000 German soldiers had passed through there in the past three hours.

In San Pietro in Cerro, civilians told Lt. Col. Horan that at least 1000 Germans with long baggage trains had passed through the village two hours earlier.

During this time a farmer came to the command post and informed the battalion commander that there were 50 enemy in his house who wished to surrender. Captain Gray of Company F and a group of enlisted men went to the house and took in custody a German lieutenant and his 49 men, together with their baggage, wagons and draft horses.

An Italian farmer appeared at the battalion command post with information that there were at least fifty enemy in his house and barn. At 0300 hours, a Company "F" platoon went to the farm and after a brief fire fight captured a German Lieutenant and 49 men with their baggage, weapons, wagons and draft horses.

At the battalion rear command post near Cortemaggiore (K797088), meanwhile, contact was being made with the enemy forces reported by the prisoner taken earlier. Members of the battalion Headquarters Company at the rear command post watched a column of Germans, with many wagons and artillery pieces, march past the door of the building they occupied, almost on the heels of our troops now only a few minutes [3 km.] ahead in S. Pietro in Cerro.

In Cortemaggiore, the battalion command post (rear) made contact with a column of German infantry at 0500 hours. The battalion adjutant, Captain Edward Meany, Jr., the battalion communications officer, Lt. Louis F. Provino. and other members of battalion Headquarters Company at the rear command post, watched several hundred enemy troops moving northward on the same route used earlier by the battalion.

Second Lieutenant John Decker, battalion S-2, succeeded in telephoning a partial account of events to Lieutenant-Colonel Horan before the Germans found and cut the communication wire.

The S-2, Lt. John Decker, reached a telephone and got a partial account of the oncoming enemy to Lt. Col. Horan before the Germans found and cut the telephone wire.

Captain Edward H Meany, Jr., battalion S-1, then led a group of Headquarters Company men in harassing the tail of the enemy column, scattering the rear elements and causing many observed casualties in the half-light of approaching dawn.

Capt. Edward Meany Jr., organized and immediately led a group of Battalion Headquarters Company men in an aggressive attack on the last elements of the enemy column, scattering the troops and causing many casualties.

First Lieutenant Ralph Lager, transportation officer, and his driver were surprised and surrounded in the darkness by the enemy column. Lieutenant Lager was wounded in the leg, later losing his limb, and the driver was killed by machine-pistol fire. The officer, despite his painful wound lay quietly until the Germans gave up their search for him.

In the half-light of the approaching dawn, the Transportation Officer, Lt. Ralph Lager, and his driver Frederick M. Icard, were surrounded by the enemy column in the road. In the shooting that followed, Lt. Lager was severely wounded, later losing his leg, and the driver was killed. The Germans took the vehicle and continued on to San Pietro in Cerro.

A Private, Harry M. Woodin of the Battalion S-2 section tried to make his way up the road to warn the battalion forward command post of the oncoming troops, but he was overtaken and killed.

At the battalion forward headquarters in S. Pietro in Cerro, Lieutenant-Colonel Horan quickly deployed his troops to meet the oncoming hostile forces. Company E, commanded by Captain Allan W. Sudholt, took up positions in the outermost buildings to the south in S. Pietro in Cerro. Companies F and G spread out in other buildings of the town.

After receiving the telephone warning, Lt. Col Timothy F. Horan quickly formulated a plan for the blocking of the road, deploying his troops as follows: Battalion Headquarters Company and Company "H" together with their vehicles at San Pietro in Cerro, moved to a large building on the west side of the road up which the enemy was approaching. Company "E" moved into small buildings south of the town, barely getting to these stone houses as the first Germans appeared on the road. Company "G" took positions behind cover of trees and walls about the battalion command post building, and in a group of buildings on the east side of the road along which the enemy was approaching. Company F was organized to defend the flanks and rear of the central position.

Two 57-millimeter anti-tank guns were emplaced by members of the Anti-Tank Company platoon, one pointing south directly at the approaching enemy, and the other aimed eastward along another possible route of hostile approach. Heavy machine guns manned by Company H men were placed in supporting positions on the open road.

Two 57-mm anti-tank guns were emplaced by a platoon of the Regimental Anti-Tank Company, one pointing south at the approaching enemy, the other aimed eastward along the road believed to be a possible secondary route of enemy approach. Heavy machine guns, manned by the men of Company "H" were placed in supporting positions beside the anti-tank guns on the open road.

In the meantime, Lieutenant-Colonel Horan had informed Regimental Headquarters of the block he had thrown across the path of the German column. A call for reinforcements was made, together with an urgent request for tanks. In response, the Regimental commander dispatched "Company S", consisting of 121 men hastily recruited from the supply, kitchen, and clerical personnel of the Regiment.

Lt. Col. Horan radioed the situation to Regimental Headquarters and requested their support.

Company E soldiers were instructed not to begin firing until the enemy's advance units had passed our outposts, as it was hoped that the sight of our troops in defensive position in the heart of the town might convince the enemy that surrender would be the best course to follow. A German soldier, however, turned into the courtyard of a Company E building and there saw one of our light machine guns, manned by weapons platoon men. He raised his machine-pistol to fire, but was killed instantly by our soldiers. The sound of the shooting was the signal for our 57-millimeter road block and our machine guns to go into action. The dawn was lighted up by the yellow flash of the 57-millimeter piece firing southward into the enemy troops, and by the machine guns firing eastward and southward. Pandemonium reigned on the roads: the Germans fled to the fields, where they took cover in the ditches and in farm buildings, and to the houses on the southern edges of the town. But, although numerically fewer, the Company E infantrymen withstood the onrushing Germans with every weapon at their disposal. The enemy line took shape: a great semi-circle, with the greater part of the enemy in buildings to the south of the village, while other groups moved northeast and northwest in flanking movements.

All men were instructed not to open fire on the enemy, but to wait until advance units had passed our outposts, as it was hoped that the appearance of our troops drawn in defensive positions in the town would convince the enemy that surrender was the best course to follow. A German soldier, however, turned into the courtyard of a Company "G" building and there saw one of our men. The German raised his machine pistol to fire, but was killed by our men instantly. The sound of the shots was the signal for our 57mm road block to go into action. The dawn was lighted up by brilliant yellow flashes of the guns firing into the enemy and the machine guns fired east and south. Pandemonium reigned on the road; several of our men fell wounded as the German troops returned our fire. Enemy soldiers fled to the fields south of the town, where they took cover in ditches and in scattered farm buildings, and to the buildings in the southern end of the village, where they were met by the numerically fewer, but courageous men of Company "E", who withstood the great onrushing waves of frenzied Germans with fire from every weapon at their disposal. Gradually the German lines took shape; a great semi-circle, with the large part of the enemy in the southern end of the town, about 300 yards from the command post building, and other German groups moving to the northeast and northwest in flanking movements.

Snipers fired at the anti-tank gun crews from the buildings south of the town but a barrage of hand grenades drove off the enemy.

To treat the wounded, medical personnel at the rear command post were ordered by the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Horan, by radio to try to reach the forward command post at all costs. In spite of the fact that the only direct route was the road along which the Germans forces were dug in in position, the medics courageously raised their Red Cross flag and proceeded directly into the heart of the enemy forces, hoping to pass through to the besieged forces at San Pietro in Cerro. Amazed German soldiers stared open-mouthed at the American vehicle driving slowly through their very midst; hundreds of gray-clad enemy dug in on both sides of the road waved at the medics and motioned them to go back. but our men continued silently on for a mile. There, the road was blocked by an 88mm gun. The Germans would not move it, and our aid men, endangered by our own fire, were forced to turn back to Cortemaggiore.

In the center of S. Pietro in Cerro, there was bedlam in the neighborhood of the battalion command post. The leading troops of the German column, which had almost reached the command post before our firing started, were scattered in heaps of dead and wounded, the latter screaming in agony. The few who escaped the withering blasts begged our soldiers to lift fire. This was done, and a dozen prisoners stumbled into the courtyard of the command post with their hands up.

In the center of the town, all was activity around the Command Post. The leading troops of the enemy column, who had nearly reached the town square before our firing started, were scattered in heaps of dead and wounded; the bleeding men, dazed and suffering were calling for help or lay screeching on the ground, begging for us to cease the murderous machine-gun and anti-tank fire that had decimated their column in a few seconds. These men were ordered to come in with their hands in the air by an officer at our machine guns and 17 terrified prisoners stumbled in. They were sent out to bring in their wounded and the group was added to the bag of fifty men taken earlier by Company "F". Questioning of the prisoners revealed that we were engaged with the enemy 232nd Infantry Regiment, reinforced with units from the 234th Infantry Regiment and an Artillery Regiment.

The intensity of their fire increased; artillery pieces of varied caliber began firing into the town. A series of rushes by 10 to 20 Germans were repelled. Enemy hollow-charge weapons battered the building from which our men fired. Falling stone and brick injured some of the men, but everybody stayed at his post and the Germans were held off.

The intensity of the enemy fire increased, several artillery pieces in their column commenced to shell the town. A series of rushes were made by groups of ten to twenty men on the buildings held by Company "E" and in every case they were repelled by our outnumbered but determined doughboys. Enemy hollow-charge projectiles battered the buildings from which our men fired; in several cases the brick walls cascaded down on our men and weapons, but they dug themselves out and continued to repel the enemy.

One Company "E" aid man, T/5 Joseph A Giovanatto, fastened an Italian farm wagon to a jeep and boldly drove out into the thick of the fighting, loading our wounded and enemy casualties onto his makeshift ambulance. Unmindful of the enemy firing, and the dangers of our own mortar fire, the courageous medic made several trips into no-man's land. Several times German soldiers motioned him to surrender, but the medic coolly shrugged them off and continued with his work of treating the suffering men of both sides, saving many lives at the risk of his own.

Our machine gunners, firing at point-blank range, broke up four determined enemy counter-attacks in the first phases of the struggle. Hand grenades were thrown freely by both sides and the machine gunners repeatedly picked up their weapons and changed their positions to better fire on the encircling enemy. One 60mm Mortar Section Sergeant, Sgt. Harold Martling, remained at an observation post in the upper window of a house while enemy forces fired eight successive hollow-charge projectiles through the room in which he was crouched. The ninth shell tore off his leg and inflicted other severe wounds, but the man remained at his post, directing effective mortar fire on the enemy until medical aid men reached him.

Enemy ground-mounted anti-aircraft weapons, later captured 2000 yards northwest of San Pietro in Cerro, commenced firing into the town, subjecting Company "H" mortar and machine gun platoons to extreme danger in their exposed positions. The fire from the enemy's implaced artillery was intermittent throughout the entire action and ceased only at the final stages when the guns themselves were taken under fire by our 105mm artillery.

Company "F" moved one platoon from its rear guard position and dispatched it to aid Company "E", now hard-pressed in the outer buildings of the town. Reaching our outer defenses, the platoon found many of the buildings afire, but the men entered and fought on grimly in the choking smoke and heat. The Company "F" platoon battered its way into the attacking German forces, and in a quickly executed rush, surrounded a Battalion Command Post, killing the Battalion Commander, a Major, together with several of his staff, then made a lightning withdrawal with several officer prisoners.

The enraged Germans attacked with great violence, but our men did not yield a single building. The Germans, knowing that their hope of escape from Italy depended on the engagement, fought with the mounting fury of desperate men; automatic weapon fire swept the buildings of the town in long bursts, grenades rocked the buildings and the artillery smashed into our Battalion Command Post building. In consideration of the tremendous numerical superiority of the enemy, reported by prisoners at over 1500 men, compared to our force of about 500 in San Pietro in Cerro, Lt. Col. Horan, Battalion Commander, radioed a request to Regimental Headquarters for additional support.

In the central buildings of S. Pietro in Cerro two 81-millimeter mortars were placed in firing position in front of the command post. Observers in the upper windows, aided by radioed corrections from Captain Sudholt, directed nearly 300 rounds of mortar fire at attacking bands of Germans attempting to over-run our outer positions. Incoming German artillery shells menaced all the troops. Platoons from Companies F and G fanned out to meet the enemy units flanking our central position. Our men in the outer buildings of the town were meanwhile taking the initiative.

In the center of San Pietro in Cerro, all was activity; two 81mm mortars were put in position near the Command Post building and observers, 1st Lt. Ronald C. Davis and Cpl. Charles M. Heubel, aided by radio reports from Company "E", directed nearly 300 rounds on mortar fire, causing many casualties. This fire was augmented by the 60mm mortars of Companies "F" and "E", fired with great accuracy. Under our mortar and small-arms fire, German attempts to flank our position were broken up. Platoons from Company "F" and Company "G" moved west and east to meet enemy attempts to pass troops to our rear.

Noting the casualties caused by our mortar fire on the enemy, Captain Sudholt directed his Company E men to move out. Employing rifle grenades against the doors and automatic weapons on the personnel, they swept the Germans out of building after building.

The Company Commander, Capt. Allan Sudholt, of Company "E", observing the casualties caused by our mortar fire, ordered his men to attack. Clearing building after building south of the town, the men of Companies "E" and "F" used rifle grenades on the doors and automatic weapons on the enemy troops who offered resistance. Ten prisoners were taken.

At this point, a 151st Field Artillery Battalion observer with the [2nd] battalion commander finally made contact with his battery fire-control headquarters. By careful adjustment, he brought his battery to bear on soldiers south of the town, in some cases hitting buildings less that 100 yards from the men of Company E. Under this punishment - artillery falling on them from the rear (our guns were still in position in country to the south, over which the Second Battalioneers had passed earlier) - the German attack began to weaken. Our troops pressed their advantage: groups of five and ten prisoners were taken with increasing frequency.

At this time, an artillery observer, Lt. John Righter, with the Battalion commander, Lt. Col. Horan, by radio, succeeded in reaching his battery fire control headquarters. Thorough careful adjustment he brought 105mm artillery fire to bear on the enemy positions south of our lines, in some cases blasting houses less than 100 yards form Company "E" positions. Under this additional punishing fire, artillery falling on them from their rear, for our guns were in position to the south of the engagement, the enemy attack weakened in intensity. The German artillery fire ceased. By 1000 hours, the enemy had begun to surrender in large groups and resistance, except for scattered pockets, had ceased in front of our men who were extending our lines rapidly southward.

To relieve the besieged battalion they [the "Company S" support dispatched by the Regimental commander], along with five light tanks, went through Cortemaggiore, where they took seven prisoners. Commanded by Captain William Dubinsky, assistant Regimental S-4, the relieving group engaged the rear of the enemy line and took in custody 350 prisoners out of the total of about 750 who were surrounded by the Second Battalion in S. Pietro in Cerro.

The appearance of Task Force "S", 150 men from the supply, kitchen, and clerical forces of the [Regiment], hastily marshalled by the Regimental Commander to aid in the struggle, together with elements of the I and R [Intelligence and Reconnaissance] Platoon, found the German will to fight completely broken.

Learning of the serious situation confronting the Second Battalion, the Third Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Marchi, swung quickly from its path near Villanova sull' Arda, [east] of S. Pietro in Cerro, and raced toward the town to aid its sister unit.

A contact patrol of Company "K" reached the town from the Third Battalion, together with three medium tanks. The situation was so well in hand by the time the tanks arrived at approximately 1300 hours that they were not needed to bring about the eventual surrender of the remaining German troops.

The flying column of the Third Battalion and armor rolled into town [from the east] and the situation was relieved, the appearance of "Company S" [from the south] completely broke the German will to fight.

The Regimental Commander of the German group was captured by our men of Company "F" and the collapse of the German fighting was complete. The rainsoaked prisoners were formed into a column of threes and escorted to the rear by Task Force "S" men.

Prisoners taken numbered 738, including 11 officers. Much equipment was captured. Our casualties were two killed, 17 wounded.

By the skillful execution of the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Horan, plan to block the route of the German force, the capture of 459 prisoners was accomplished. An entire reinforced German Infantry Regiment was completely neutralized. Twenty-five enemy dead were counted and at least forty-five seriously wounded Germans were given treatment. The cost to the Second Battalion was six men killed and twenty-four wounded. A survey immediately after the engagement disclosed the following materiel captured:

[A condensed list is given here]

   114 Horses (95 live, 19 dead)
   72 Wagons, (4- and 2-wheel)
   34 Trailers (Kitchen, 4-, and 2-wheel)
   20 Trucks
   12 Cars
   28 Guns (37mm - 105mm)
   [Many] Rifles and Machine Guns
   [Much] Ammunition
   [Much] Signal, Quartermaster, Medical, Food Supplies
   [Much] Baggage

After the departure of the Prisoner of War column, the battalion underwent a four-hour period of rest and reorganization, then continued the advance northward to Monticelli, Italy.

 

We sometimes wonder at the diversities in event reporting: several observers never 'see' the same thing, and generally cannot agree with what we know to have happened. Here is a chance to observe that phenomenon directly. And if any reader happened to have been there, San Pietro in Cerro, please let us know how this all agrees with your memory.

Neither of these two historic presentations is 'wrong'; they are based on the information available at a point in time. Yet neither is 'right', for there were still other inputs which had not, and might never be, taken into consideration.

Lieutenant Davis, the original rapporteur in the left-hand column, a young officer assigned to the Heavy Weapons Company of the Battalion, was by my guess probably not conscious of the value of combat reporting. Yet it's reasonable to suspect that he had a better opportunity to observe what Lt. Col. Horan was doing, seeing, hearing, than was the Regimental Historian a month later. I think the later assertion that Davis was "... incorrect because of erroneous information given to the historian ..." overstates the case.

The presentation here left the 'change document', the right-hand column, in its published sequence. The original report, being shorter, has been sliced and re-orderd as necessary in order to facilitate your comparison.

One of the most interesting parts of this report, at least to me, are the two segments on the actions of our medics. I had not seen these reports elsewhere.


Two later views of this same event are found in press reports at Jaybirds ... New Facts ...

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