Ordeal of 179th RCT

Days after the initial American landings along the Salerno coast, the American have finished consolidating their beachhead position and have started to expand with regimental (RCT) sized maneuvers to seize key high ground surrounding the American beach landing. The third in a series of linked scenarios based upon events around Salerno, “Ordeal of 179th RCT” deals with the American northeastern advance led by the 179th RCT between the Sele and Calore Rivers…. known as the “Sele-Calore corridor”, across the open farmland, to reach their September 11th evening objective, the German controlled Highway 19 at Ponte Sele and the village of Serre.

During the evening of September 10th and the early morning hours of September 11th, 179th RCT is tasked with seizing control of Highway 19 at two points on the map, Ponte Sele and the village of Serre astride Highway 19. German presence and opposition has been light in the American beachhead sector to date, compared to the battles faced by the British up north around Salerno. Advancing from the American beaches where they landed the day before, the 179th RCT (45th Division), joined that morning by the 157th RCT and, to the south by 142nd RCT near Altavilla (Hill 424), all hoped to secure the high ground surrounding the beachhead, thus reducing the accurate German artillery observation.

Left Flank Sept 11 179th & 157 RCT

September 11th. The 179th RCT advances along two axis, Across the Sele River then along the Tenuta Persano road eastwards and the failed flanking march to cross the Calore north of Altavilla on Highway 88. Map also shows the engagements by 157th RCT at the tobacco factory fought on September 11-12th. Map from “Salerno” CMH US Army.

Fifth Army Landing Beaches Salerno 9-13 Sept

General map of Salerno landings including the British northern sector. Like the Americans, September 11th has British battalions grimly holding positions, especially near Battipaglia.

From “Salerno CMH US Army publication” which sums up the 179th’s advance and situation at nightfall of the 11th.

“…The 179th RCT drives into the Sele-Calore Corridor to accompany the 142nd’s push at Altavilla heights, General Dawley had ordered the 179th Regimental Combat Team to advance on the left flank, with the mission of securing Ponte Sete and the steep hills at the end of the valley near Serre, where they block the corridor between the Sele and Calore rivers. Col. Robert B. Hutchins issued the attack order at 1600hrs on 10 September, and at 1925hrs the regiment moved out. The 2nd Battalion, with Battery B, 160th Field Artillery Battalion, and a platoon of tanks was at the head of the column. The route of march followed Highway 18 north to the road just south of Ponte alia Scafa. Here it turned east for a mile, then forked. The regiment divided at the fork. The 2nd Battalion under Lt. Col. Charles D. Weigand, leading the southern column, continued eastward across the low hills on the west bank of La Cosa Creek and then moved northeast over the rolling ground below Altavilla to skirt the northern end of german occupied Hill 424. From the Calore crossing north of that hill it was to strike northeast to the high ground at Serre.

The northern column, consisting of the 1st and 3rd Battalions and led by the 3rd Battalion under Lt. Col. Earl A. Taylor, turned off north to the Calore just above its junction with the Sele, and moved up through the corridor toward Highway 19 to attack Serre from the west. All night the march continued.

The 2d Battalion, advancing south of the Calore, drove back a few enemy detachments and reached the bridge north of Altavilla at about 1000hrs on the 11th, just as the 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry, was moving against Altavilla village itself. The men of the 2nd Battalion found the bridge destroyed, but they used hand tools and vehicles to break down the 10-foot banks of the Calore so that the infantry elements, a platoon of tanks, and a platoon of tank destroyers were soon able to ford the shallow stream. On the north bank a heavy enemy counterattack by tanks and infantry of the 29th Pioneer Battalion, supported by artillery, hit them hard and by 1235hrs drove them back across the river. Throughout the afternoon the 2nd Battalion, under intensive artillery fire from hills to the northeast, struggled with the German pioneer battalion for the river crossing.

Within the Sele-Calore corridor, the rest of the 179th Infantry met even tougher opposition. A pile-and-plank bridge over the Calore south of La Cosa Creek was in flames when the northern column reached it. Crossing the river at a bypass constructed downstream from the burning bridge, the 1st and 3rd Battalions continued north through the flat, marshy land of the lower corridor and passed, without stopping to occupy, the knoll on which the few large buildings and stables of Persano stand. Here the column turned northeast and marched over the gently rising ground and tree-lined fields of the upper corridor. Dawn of the 11th found the infantry well past Persano, moving up the straight and narrow Tenuta di Persano road. Company L, on the left, branched off to follow the main road leading to Ponte Sele. It drove out an enemy detachment and temporarily controlled the river bluffs overlooking Ponte Sele; but a German counterattack with tanks soon threw the company back. The rest of the 3d Battalion, acting as advance guard on the Tenuta di Persano road, met resistance which held the infantry all day at the ridges near the junction of the Tenuta road with Highway 19.

Persano (A De Simor)

Ground view from Sele-Galore corridor towards the raised Persano hillock. Photo by De Simor on Panoramio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Persano (R Diguida)

Medieval village of Persano atop the hilllock and overlooking the Sele-Calore corridor below. Photo by R. Diguida.

Though the main column of the 179th, the 1st and 3rd Battalions, had reached the northeast corner of the upper corridor and threatened the Germans’ hold on the highway, an enemy thrust at its exposed left flank and rear would make the position of these two battalions extremely precarious. Shortly after daybreak this danger materialized, when the regimental support column came under such heavy machine gun fire from the small knoll at Persano that no men or vehicles could get past the settlement. The main body of the regiment was almost completely cut off and its threat to the enemy’s control of Highway 19 became ineffective. The Germans then counterattacked up the corridor from Persano to strike at the rear of the 1st and 3rd Battalions. By 1100hrs eight enemy tanks and a battalion of infantry, coming from the vicinity of Eboli, had crossed the Sele near Persano and turned northeast, the tanks leading the attack. Company C, which had been ordered to meet the threat to the rear by organizing a defensive position in the open ground northeast of Persano, was hit before it could dig in and was severely mauled. The tanks moved on and nearly reached the command post of the 179th, near the intersection of the Tenuta di Persano and Persano-Ponte Sele roads, before halting temporarily. The rest of the 1st Battalion faced about to hold off the attack. Strong enemy combat patrols pushed in all along the rear and the flanks, and the two battalions of the 179th Infantry, nearly encircled, went into an all-round defense. The enemy thrust at the rear had cut off most of the regiment’s attached units, which remained in the tip of the Sele-Calore corridor below Persano. Company C, 753rd Tank Battalion, had crossed the Calore at 0645hrs over a ford prepared by engineers below the burned bridge. Together with the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the tanks halted just beyond the river, and Battery A, 160th Field Artillery Battalion, joined them. The commanders of these units decided to remain in their positions to hold the ford against the apparent enemy threat to secure it and thereby completely encircle the 179th. When enemy fire lessened about noon, one platoon of tanks and Company C of the tank destroyers attacked Persano. Stopped by road blocks and 88mm fire, they fell back with a loss of one tank and seven destroyers. In the afternoon a force of tank destroyers, tanks, and infantry tried to cross the Calore near a blown steel-trestle bridge a mile north of La Cosa Creek; but the enemy crushed the attempt and knocked out three of our tank destroyers. By late afternoon on 11 September, the main body of the 179th Infantry was hard-pressed. Many of the companies were without food and water; the regimental aid station, crowded with casualties, was under shell fire. Batteries A and C, 160th Field Artillery Battalion, had exhausted their ammunition supply except for 10 rounds per gun kept as reserve for a last emergency. At 1700hrs aircraft began to strafe and bomb the 3rd Battalion, and the enemy launched a tank-infantry attack, supported by artillery fire from Eboli, starting from Highway 19 just east of Ponte Sele. The relatively open ground in the upper corridor proved untenable, and heavy artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire forced the 3rd Battalion to retreat toward the 1st Battalion northeast of Persano. By midnight the battle for the Sele-Calore corridor remained undecided; but the enemy had a definite advantage, and Highway 19 was still open to his troops…”

For the next few days, the savage battles for the Tobacco Factory and Hill 424 soon occupied the American high command’s attention. The 157th RCT had attacked the Tobacco Factory on September 11 morning, across the Sele River from Persano, to support and draw enemy attention from the situational plight of the 179th. The 157th RCT quickly found itself facing veteran German panzer grenadiers with armor, their gripping tenuous hold of the Tobacco factory and the surrounding terrain paid in blood. For the 142th RCT… a hill numbered 424 on maps soon had still American bodies covering the slopes alongside their German counterparts. Salerno invasion wasn’t going to plan…. if the new Italian campaign ever followed planning after first contact.

45th Division patch            179th Regiment patch      images

The Flames of War (FOW) 20mm scenario: The scenario covers the fighting between the 179th (Tomahawks) RCT of 45th (Thunderbird) Division, and the Kampfgruppe Ulrich formed from elements of 29th Panzer Grenadier (Falcon) Division and 29th PzGrenadier Division Aufklarung battalion, on September 11, 1943.

Ordeal of the 179th RCT scenario notes (.doc) file below has complete OOB, scenario rules, deployment, reinforcement arrival, weather, terrain notes, and victory conditions:

Ordeal of 179th RCT scenario-notes

Update: Link to the scenario AAR: Ordeal of the 179th RCT AAR

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Flames of War scenario map showing the two sectors (tabletop zones) and the yellow transit zone between them. Map scale 12″ per map square. See Scenario notes file (.doc) above for details.

American forces:  1942–1963 “Triangular” Organization for the 45th Infantry Division.

HQ 45th Infantry Division

MG Troy H. Middleton, commander of 45th Infantry Division.

MG Troy H. Middleton, commander of 45th Infantry Division at Salerno invasion.

157th Infantry Regiment
179th Infantry Regiment
180th Infantry Regiment

45th Division Artillery

158th Field Artillery Battalion
160th Field Artillery Battalion
171st Field Artillery Battalion
189th Field Artillery Battalion

45th Reconnaissance Troop
45th Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment
45th Military Police Platoon
45th Signal Company
700th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company
120th Engineer Combat Battalion
120th Medical Battalion
45th Quartermaster Company

Representing the 179th RCT (45th Division) in “Ordeal of the 179th RCT” scenario, the following American Rifle Company HQ’s and platoons are used based from Battlefront’s FOW North Africa book organization. Two American Rifle companies, one on each half of the scenario tabletop, represent each battalion of the 179th regiment in reduced scaled format. The scenario notes file has complete organization details and tabletop deployment zones.

1st Battalion east of Persano red dashed line deployment zone:

Company HQ, 1st and 2nd Rifle platoons. Weapons platoon, and A/T 57mm platoon.

3rd Battalion around Baraccamenti farm red dashed line deployment zone:

Company HQ, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Rifle platoons, Weapons platoon, 81mm Mortar platoon, and M3a1 Stuart Tank platoon (attached).

Regimental assets in yellow Transit zone:

Regimental HQ, SP A/T platoon, Field artillery 105mm battery, SP A/A platoon, and Engineer platoon.

Off board reinforcements (American counterattack from south of Persano) includes:

M4 Tank platoon, SP A/T M10 platoon, Rifle platoon. A & P platoon, Field artillery 105mm battery support off-board.

General of Panzertruppe Walter Fries, commander of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division.

General of Panzertruppe Walter Fries, commander 29th Panzer Grenadier Division at Salerno.

German forces: 29th Panzer Grenadier Division order of battle (September 1943) as they arrived during the days leading up to the September 11th battles.

A.M. 10 September arrives 29th Panzer Grenadier Division’s 29th Pioneer Battalion (engages 2nd Btn 179th RCT at Calore river crossing scenario).

P.M. 11 September 29th arrives Panzer Grenadier Division’s 29th Aufklarungs (Reconnaissance) Battalion (covers Ponte Sele position) and 29th Panzer Grenadier Division 129th Panzer Battalion 1/,2/,3/71st Panzergrenadier Regiment, 313th Flak Battalion, 1/29th (mot) Artillery Regiment (forms Kampfgruppe Urlich in Eboli to Persano counterattack).

Representing the 29th PzDiv Kampfgruppe Ulrich and Aufklarungs battalion in reduced scaled format, the following German Panzer Grenadier Company HQ’s and platoons are used based from Battlefront’s FOW North Africa book organization. The scenario notes file has complete organization details and tabletop deployment zones.

Deployed in Persano village at start:

PzPioneer platoon and PzGren Heavy platoon.

Kampfgruppe Ulrich entering tabletop near Persano:

Panzer Grenadier Company HQ, Panzer platoon (MkIVG), 3x PzGren platoons (motorized), Available (in ambush) is Heavy AA gun platoon (88mm) once Persano entered by KG Ulrich team.

29th PzDiv Aufklarung battalion near Ponte-Sele and deployed along Serre heights:

Panzerspath Company HQ, H/T Panzerspah platoon, 2x Aufklarungs platoons, Armored car platoon, and Gepanzerte A/T gun platoon.

German attack reinforcements arriving near Ponte-Sele:

PzGren platoon (motorized), 1x Assault gun platoon, and Limited Ju 87G Stuka air support thereon anywhere on tabletop. Later another Aufklarung platoon arrives.

Off table artillery during entire scenario with ability to bombard anywhere on scenario tabletop with observed directed fire:

Motorized Artillery battery (10.5cm LeFH18)

Print sources used for the scenario:

Salerno: American Operations From the Beaches to the Volturno (9 September-6 October 1943) is one of a series of fourteen studies of World War II operations originally published by the War Department’s Historical Division and now returned to print as part of the Army’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous clash of arms. These volumes, prepared by professional historians shortly after the events described, provide a concise summary of some of the major campaigns and battles fought by American soldiers. The skillful combination of combat interviews with primary sources, many of which are now lost, gives these unassuming narratives a special importance to military historians.

SalernoSalerno(1),jpg

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BF FOW North Africa bookcover     salerno-a-military-fiasco

Future Salerno scenarios (American sector) planned with date and scenario title name:

Sept 9th   1). Paestum Landing (night landing of 141st RCT)

Sept 11th 2). Calore River (179th 2nd Btn.)

Sept 11th 3). Ordeal of the 179th RCT (179th RCT)

Sept 11th 4). 1st Battle Tobacco Factory (157th RCT)

Sept 12th 5). Hill 424, German Counterattack (142nd RCT)

Sept 12th 6). 2nd Battle Tobacco Factory (157th RCT)

Sept 13th 7). Taking Altavilla and Hill 424 (142 & 143 RCT)

Sept 13th 8). Storm breaks at Tobacco Factory (157th RCT and elements of 179th RCT)

Sept 14th 9). Holding the Line

 

Sightseeing at Paestum Greek-Roman ruins with General Clark.

WR

P.S. A more complete order of battle for the 29th PzGren Division in September 1943 if interested:

Division Staff
– Staff
– 29. Mapping Detachment (mot)
– 23. Sound Ranging Troop
15. Panzergrenadier Regiment
– Staff
– Regimental Band
– Staff Company
— Signals Platoon
— Pioneer Platoon
– 3 x Battalion
— Staff
— 4 x Company (mot)
– Heavy Infantry Gun Company (self-propelled)
– Panzerjäger Company (mot)
71. Panzergrenadier Regiment
– Staff
– Regimental Band
– Staff Company
— Signals Platoon
— Pioneer Platoon
– 3 x Battalion
— Staff
— 4 x Company (mot)
– Heavy Infantry Gun Company (self-propelled)
– Panzerjäger Company (mot)
129. Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion
– Staff
– Heavy Platoon
– Light Armored Car Company
– 3 x Company (half-track)
– Heavy Company (half-track)
— Pioneer Platoon
— Panzerjäger Platoon
— Light Infantry Gun Section
— 2 x Platoon
– Light Reconnaissance Column
129. Panzer Battalion
– Staff
– Staff Battery
– 3 x Sturmgeschütz Battery
– Panzer Maintenance Platoon
29. Artillery Regiment
– Staff
– Staff Battery
– Battalion
— Staff
— Staff Battery (self-propelled)
— 3 x Battery (self-propelled)
– 2 x Battalion
— Staff
— Staff Battery (mot)
— 3 x Battery (mot)
313. Army Flak Battalion
– Staff
– Staff Battery (mot)
– 2 x Heavy Flak Battery (mot)
– Light Flak Battery (mot)
– Supply Column (mot)
29. Pioneer Battalion
– Staff
– 3 x Pioneer Company (mot)
– Brüko K Bridging Column (mot)
– Light Pioneer Column (mot)
29. Signals Battalion
– Staff
– Telephone Company (mot)
– Radio Company (mot)
– Signals Column (mot)
Supply & Support Units

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