When working on a Panzerwrecks, there is a great deal of material that hits the “editing room floor,” as features expand and contract, photos are rearranged, new information comes to light, or space considerations simply squeeze out text. Panzerwrecks 13: Italy 2, was no exception, but it seemed a shame to let the material go to waste, so it’s posted here.
One of the photos we had was believed to have come from a veteran of the 755th Tank Battalion, based on a bumper marking for the 755th visible on a vehicle in the background This link, however, could not be established. But I had already done some research on the 755th and, as an independent American tank unit deeply involved in the fighting in Italy, it came to epitomize the tenor and times of the Italian campaign best, and to throw the German forces into stark relief as a result. We expect that, after reading the excerpts, you’ll have a better understanding of the challenges faced by each opponent.
Consider how they worked out their imbalances: The Germans had the perfect terrain to defend and methodically delayed the Allies with a minimum number of troops; the Allies, on the other hand had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ammunition and a few brilliant tactical moves up their sleeves to unhinge the German lines. Still, it took many months of fighting to achieve any sort of breakthrough.
On a smaller scale, crews from the 755th manned disabled tanks on the the front lines to bolster defenses, and one can’t help but think of the German Panzerstellungs used in similar fashion. Troops had to improvise and endure hardships, some of them psychological, as when exceedingly capable and efficient commanders were killed. (Some of these commanders’ names are highlighted in the text, along with a French liaison officer who, in the span of just a few short days, was captured by the Germans, rescued by the Americans, and killed soon after by a mortar round as he moved German prisoners to the rear.) Refer to the table on 755th Tank Bn casualties to match up casualties with the various actions taking place during each month. We do not have a window into the psyches of the German tankers, but we can imagine their response to the loss of a competent commander would be similar.
The 755th was indeed a capable, well-led unit, attested to by its accomplishments in the field, where elements acted in direct fire and anti-tank roles, as indirect artillery and as mobile reserve. And its members had a high level of training, as manifest by their marksmanship, despite having to train most of their replacements themselves. And, to underscore their flexibility, many tankers of the 755th were re-trained as “Fantail” (LVT) operators within a short period of time, and took part in two extremely daring amphibious operations in April 1945. To make matters worse for German tankers, the 755th by this time was armed with a company of British 17 pounder Shermans.
Also consider the wide range of ‘allies’ the 755th had to support (Algerian! Brazilian! British! Canadian! French! Italian partisan! Moroccan! Tunisian!) and the difficulties posed by difference in language, customs, equipment, and loyalties. In this respect, the 755th acquitted itself spectacularly.
(All material presented here was taken from the Reports After Action available on the 755th’s website, and their site should be referred to for additional material. Note that several month’s worth of reports are missing.)
January 1944: Disposition of troops: Company ‘A’ was in Venafro supporting the 180th Infantry of U.S. 45th I.D; Company ‘B’ was supporting HQ VI Corps; Company ‘C’ was in S. Maria Olivetto supporting the 2nd Moroccan Inf.Div. of the 2nd French Expeditionary Corps. [Later the Third Algerian Inf.Div. would be supported as well. The allied tanks were forced to stay on roads and suffer hit and run attacks in the cold, rain and snow as the Germans blew bridges to slow their advance.]
Situation: The terrain was very mountainous, precluding the use of tanks anywhere except on the roads. Occasionally a spot large enough for tanks to get off the road could be found, but for the most part the roads in both 2 DIM and 45th Division sectors were cut out of the sides of mountains whose slopes varied from thirty degrees to the perpendicular. The weather was very cold, with frequent rain or snow.
As the enemy retreated, he did a very thorough job of destruction on roads and bridges, necessitating much hazardous work by the Engineers before the tanks could move forward. All tank missions were to support the advance of the Infantry by direct fire on enemy positions.
Action Against the Enemy:
Period 1-4 January 1944. Action at CASALE, Italy. At 010600 A January 1944, the battalion (less Company C, attached to 2 DIM), was relieved of attachment to 2nd Tank Group and attached to the 45th Infantry Division (U.S.). At 020800A January 1944, Company B left PRATA, Italy, arriving at VIRANO PATENORA at 020935A January where a Provisional Infantry Company of one hundred men was organized. Leaving the remainder of the company to maintain and guard their tanks and vehicles, the Provision Company and the Mortar Platoon of Headquarters Company moved to H025201. Here they were in 45th Infantry Division Reserve with the mission of supporting the Provisional Company of the 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion who were to prevent the enemy reoccupying the heights above VENAFRO. They were relieved on 8 January 1944.
At 0730A on 2 January, the Second Platoon of Company A (1st Lt. Ricks), in support of the 180th Infantry, fired 250 rounds of HE 75mm at enemy positions on the northern slope of M. Molino. The exact location of the enemy shelters and gun positions were revealed by the tracks in the snow and direct hits were achieved. The tank crews reported seeing blankets and other impedimentia [sic] blown into the air. A prisoner of war taken later stated that sixteen (16) enemy were killed by the tank fire. Lt. Ricks kept two tanks hidden in buildings in CASALE in case of counterattack. The three other tanks remained in defilade on the road at 0996273, coming out to perform the firing missions.
On the third of January at 1400A, the three tanks again fired 250 rounds at suspected enemy positions on M. Molino but there were no definite results. During these two actions the tanks received very heavy shelling, both artillery and mortar, without casualties. Col. Dulaney, C.O. of the 180th Infantry, remarked that it was the heaviest he had seen. The tanks were often completely hidden by the smoke of bursting shells, but they kept on firing. The crews said later that it made the tanks rock occasionally and the gunners had difficulties in seeing the target, but the tanks moved forward or back to keep the enemy observer making new adjustments for the precision fire required for a direct hit.
On 16 January 1944, the First Platoon shot down one enemy fighter at 1115A which exploded in the air. Another was shot down at 1505A and crashed at 0924265.
On 24 January 1944, Companies A and B were supporting the 3rd DIA [3rd Algerian Infantry Division], and Company C supported the 2nd DIM [2nd Moroccan Infantry Division]. A coordinated attack between the 34th Infantry Division and the 3rd DIA (French) was planned for the morning of 25 January using armored vehicles, light and medium tanks, and tank destroyers. Officers of Company B reported to Col. Bonjour at 0830A hours at G893245 to make a foot reconnaissance of the area in which they were to operate. Company A officers made a reconnaissance with Col. Roux, Commanding Officer of the 4 RTT, for their operation.
Lt. Teyssier, Commanding Officer Company A, was injured by enemy artillery shelling the area 0923267 at approximtely 1500 hours which also caused one tank to burn and injured five enlisted men, Lt. Olenberger assumed command of Company A at this time. The company then moved to their Assembly Area, vicinity of S. ELIA, G890265, with the attached platoon of 2nd Tank Group at 0908256, the night of 24 January. A direct hit by an enemy artillery shell on the front slope plate of Lt. Olenberger’s tank (G898254) made the tank unfit for combat, however, it was still mobile.
Action 25 January 1944. Company A’s three platoons attacked Hill 382 (CLE. BELVEDERE) at 0645A in support of the Infantry of 4 RTT, using the 1st and 2nd platoons in fire and movement with the 3rd platoon overwatching from position in the vicinity of G881264. The operation was successful as the Infantry occupied the Hill and approximately 100 Germans were taken prisoner. One tank was badly mired in the mud, but was later recovered. In spite of heavy artillery and mortar fire by the enemy, no one was injured nor were any tanks damaged. The company then move back to their Rallying Position at 1000 hours.
Company B, operating with the Bonjour Task Force, attacked CAIRO and MARINO supporting the infantry. The terrain was bad and during their attack, they had to pull tanks through mud and ditches. Company B, after supporting the Infantry in occupying MARINO, pulled back to their Rallying Position about 1300 hours leaving four tanks badly mired in the vicinity G871268. No casualties were sustained during this action.
Action 27 January. Lt. Ricks with the 2nd Platoon attacked with French Infantry in the vicinity G862285, firing on targets of opportunity and targets requested by the Infantry. The French Infantry requested tank fire on a church located at G863285, which they knew had 15 Germans inside. The tank fire immediately neutralized the church strongpoint. In this church, the Germans were holding 10 French prisoners, including Lt.Col Roux, the commanding officer of the 4th RTT under whom the tanks were operating. The French prisoners were freed and took the Germans prisoner. Later that afternoon while carrying some 200 German prisoners back, Col. Roux was killed by a mortar shell. The tanks fired on houses which were occupied by Germans. One tank was overturned into a ditch and was unable to be pulled out. The French Expeditionary Corps credits tanks with capturing 100 prisoners during the afternoon’s mission.
Action 26 January. The command of Company A changed at this time, since Lt. Olenberger, on advice from Capt. Iler, Batallion Medical Officer, returned to the rear CP of Company A for rest. At 1100 hours. Lt. Ricks assumed command. (Note: The commander of Company B was also relieved of command at this time.)
Action 28 January. Capt. Hinson [Liaison Officer to 3 DIA], who was located at the Battalion Forward CP one mile west of ACQUIFONDATA, received enemy artillery fire at 1125A killing Sgt. Simpson instantly, fatally injuring another enlisted man, and two other enlisted men badly wounded.
Action 29 January 1944. The 1st Platoon of Company A received orders to meet the French Infantry at 0700 hours at G866267 to repeat the same type of mission as the previous day–supporting the Infantry in attack, on enemy positions on C. BELVEDERE, G850260 and G866270. Lt. Robert C. Thompson was in charge of the five tanks and Lt. Ricks was along to observe. Enroute to meet the French, the fourth tank overturned when a bridge gave way at G868262, causing the death of S/Sgt. Victor C. Weiss. Lt. Ricks returned to the bivouac area with three tanks while Lt. Thompson continued the mission with two tanks.
Action 30 January 1944. Company B received orders at 0930A to report to attack position G853258 and await orders to attack MARINO, G852255. Lt. Palfreyman, with two platoons, arrived at the attack position at 1130A and at 1500 hours received orders for the attack. The tanks attacked MORINO, G852255, frontally, running over slit trenches, barbed wire entanglements and setting Anti-Personnel mines. The Infantry advanced in the tank’s tracks. At 1730A, the Infantry had reached the crest of MORINO and consolidated their positions when the tanks returned to their bivouac area. Enemy artillery and mortar fire drove the Infantry off MARINO the night of 30 January.
Action 31 January 1944. Company B received orders at 0530A to repeat the same operation as on the previous day, to support the French Infantry in retaking MORINO G852255, for the third time since 25 January 1944. The mission was successful and the Company was back in the bivouac area by 0830A.
Company A had four different commanders during the month, Company B, two.
It has been demonstrated in every action that Infantry support is indispensable to tank action. The infantry must advance close enough to the tanks so that fire of the enemy machine gun nests will disclose their camouflaged positions and thus permit the tanks to locate and fire on these positions. If the Infantry does not accompany the tanks, the enemy permits the tanks to advance without being fired on, and when the infantry comes within range, the machine guns fire on them and pin them to the ground. The tanks have then advanced beyond these machine gun nests and in most instances cannot turn around and fire on them because of the narrow, winding roads they are operating on in this mountainous area.
Disposition of troops of this Battalion on 1 February 1944:
The battalion, less the three medium tank companies A, B, C and rear echelon, was at R076235 (vicinity of VENAFRO, Italy) in French Corps reserve. Company A, with attached platoon from 2nd Tank Group, was at G885253 (vicinity SAN ELIA) supporting the 4th Regiment Tiralliers of the 3rd Algerian Infantry Division (French Expeditionary Corps). Company B was at G882249 (vicinity SAN ELIA) attached to Bonjour Task Force of 3rd Algerian Infantry Division (French Expeditionary Corps). Company C first platoon, was at G971328 (vicinity CARDITO). Second and third platoons were at H043295 (Vicinity SELFONE) supporting 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (French Expeditionary Corps). Rear echelon was at H066205 (vicinity VENAFRO).
Situation: The terrain offered very little opportunity for tank action in mass. The tanks were usually confined to roads due to steep mountainous slopes, and marshy areas in San Elia Plains caused by heavy rains and the skillful operations of the enemy in turning the course of the Rapido River at G871259 to flood the area in parts. The weather was very cold, with frequent rain and snow.
Action Against the Enemy:
At 310900A January 1944, Lt. Palfreyman, Commanding Officer, Company B, 755th tank Battalion (M), received verbal orders from Bonjour Task Force to have one platoon of tanks report at the base of Marino Hill G854245 to support reconnaissance elements which were to advance on TERELLE, using CAIRO – TERELLE road. The tank platoon arrived at Marino Hill G854245 at 311200A January. At 311500A January, orders were issued to Lt. Gerwig, first platoon leader, company B, that the platoon would be part of an armored column whose objective was TERELLE G816277. The armored column consisted of five light tanks M5, (French), four medium tanks M4, (company B), four tank destroyers , M10, (French) and a few half-tracks and scout cars (French). The armored column reached the vicinity G845273 at 310200A January 1944. The resistance up to this point was slight and scattered. At this point orders were received to have the other platoon, which was bivouaked at G882249 (vicinity SAN ELIA), join this armored group. Lt. Hoffman, second platoon leader Company B, arrived at G845273 at 010300A February 1944.
At 020800A February 1944, Commanding Officer Company B, received orders to support infantry in attack on Hill 831 G826277. The armored column in the following order, five (5) light tanks, eight (8) medium tanks and four (4) tank destroyers M10, moved up the road toward TERELLE to a point G832274. The five light tanks M5 and two medium tanks M4 supported the infantry by fire to occupy Hill 831 G828277…. The attack was successful…
At 041100A February 1944, Commanding Officer Company B, received orders to move both platoons to G832273. Two tanks moved up road to G831274 to overwatch enemy positions. They fired 75 rounds high explosive from the 75mm gun and 3500 rounds .30 caliber from machine guns at suspected enemy positions. Results undetermined due to heavy rain and poor visibility at time of firing. A Prisoner of War taken by French Infantry during this action stated that a company (enemy) was practically wiped out and he estimated 75-100 killed or wounded. Both platoons returned to G845277 at dusk. The weather was cold, windy and rainy. The tank crews slept in their tanks due to bad weather and intermittent enemy shelling in their bivouac area G845277. Two tanks received direct hits by mortar shells but no damage to tanks nor injury to personnel occurred.
At 080400A February 1944 Lt. Pullman, with four tanks, left vicinity G898268 and closed vicinity G845277 at 0530A…The Commanding Officer Company B had tank crew personnel for three platoons and only one platoon of tanks operating under adverse conditions. His plan was to exchange crew personnel every third day and keep the same tanks operating due to traffic restrictions and the road being under enemy observation. Movement of supplies was made at night using armored half-tracks.
At 250315A February 1944, companies A and B and Battalion Headquarters closed their respective bivouac areas vicinity VENAFRO, Italy without mishap although the road was mountainous with sharp curves, steep banks and the strong wind did not help the drivers during the black-out driving. The reconnaissance platoon personnel acted as road guides.
During the period 26-29 February the 755th Tank Battalion (M) was undergoing reorganization in the vicinity of VENAFRO, Italy under T/O and E 17-25 dated September 1943 with changes, number 1, 2 and 3.
Comments: In mountainous terrain where tanks are confined to roads and limited areas it is of utmost importance to have infantry-men proceed or closely follow the tanks. Also engineers must clear the roads of anti-tank mines or else the operation will be too costly.
During the operation toward TERELLE, it was a case of too much armor confined entirely to the road and too few infantry-men over a wide area, therefore the tanks were used mostly as defensively moving pillboxes.
March 1944 – undergoing reorganization. The 755th was in the British 10 Corps sector supporting the U.S. the 88th Inf.Div.
The 755th Tank Battalion was to close in the 88th Infantry Division sector by 200600A March 1944 and relieve the 50th Royal Tank Regiment (British) which was supporting the 349th Regiment.
On 20th March 1944, plans were completed for two medium tank companies of 755th Tank Battalion to relieve two squadrons of tanks of 50th Royal Tank Regiment on nights of 21-22 and 22-23 March 1944.
On 21 March 1944 arrangements were made to have the assault gun platoon, consisting of six (6) 105mm Howitzers, attached to the 88th Infantry Division Artillery.
April 1944: Tank companies supporting 4th Moroccan Mountain Div, 4th Moroccan Spahi Regt, 3rd Moroccan Inf. Div. in defensive positions.
At 040100B six (6) tank destroyers of 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion were attached to this battalion by VOCO 349th Infantry Regiment. They were worked in with our defensive plan.
At 081930B S-2, 349th Infantry Regiment advised there were twenty-one (21) enemy tanks observed at M794998 (rear of MT. BRACCHI) and all movements from front lines had been cancelled.
At 082230B six (6) more Tank Destroyers were moved into out sector and were attached to 755th Tank Battalion.
At 092030B four (4) Tank Destroyers of 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion moved back to their original position leaving eight (8) Tank Destroyers attached to 755th Tank Battalion.
At 102230B. The Tank Destroyers were attached to Company B, 760th Tank Battalion.
At 122000B the Assault Guns were relieved from 88th Infantry Division Artillery…completing relief of 755th Tank Battalion from 88th Infantry Division.
Period 12 May 1944. Company A lost two (2) tanks, one (1) by AT mines and one (1) by direct fire from AT weapon and Company B lost one (1) tank by artillery fire.
Period 16 May 1944. Company B and one (1) platoon Company D was used in the attack toward ESPERIA, Italy (G734090). The road junction at (G774091) was taken at 0830B and the attack continued toward ESPERIA, Italy with one (1) Platoon Company B as the advance point. At (G763095) a strong point was encountered and as a result four (4) tanks and three (3) crews were lost by enemy AT positions.
Period 24 May 1944. Col Bonjour sent an officer to the Battalion CP and asked for the Assault Gun platoon to fire a mission at approximately 1300B. They had been relieved but were anxious to fire and annihilate the enemy. They fired on COLLEGRAMBE, Italy and vicinity at a group of vehicles and men. Many vehicles were knocked out including three (3) enemy tanks. Seven hundred (700) rounds 105 mm Howitzer were fired during the afternoon. This fire broke up the German counterattack before it got underway and allowed our troops to advance…
Comments: The operations of this Battalion during the month of May have been extremely difficult. The fortifications of the Gustav Line and the Hitler Line were not the only obstacles encountered, the terrain was very mountainous and rugged and the road net consisted mostly of winding, narrow, mountain roads. This condition made it impossible most of the time for tanks to operate off the roads. The attacks then were canalized down roads which made it easy for the enemy to defend against armored units by placing AT guns along the road and by using road blocks, blown bridges, road craters, and mine fields. Tanks and self-propelled AT guns were also encountered. They would fire from well-camouflaged prepared positions and then withdraw to other prepared positions. It was impossible in most cases to outflank these guns or bypass the obstacles until the engineers came forward and reduced them.
After the penetration of the Gustav line, the attack moved forward so rapidly that communications with the forward elements were very difficult…
The six self-propelled 105 mm guns (M7) were grouped into one battery and gave direct support to the leading elements of the Battalion. The fire support rendered by these weapons cannot be praised too highly. I consider the fire from these guns the best method I have at my disposal to destroy AT guns and self-propelled AT guns. On one occasion the fire alone from these guns broke up a strong counterattack consisting of enemy tanks, infantry, and self-propelled AT guns. They definitely destroyed two Mark V tanks and several other vehicles.
It was found in this operation that it is essential that every tank be equipped with a transmitter. This Battalion lost at least three tanks and most of the crews in them because every tank was not so equipped.
The half-track ambulance proved to be unsatisfactory in evacuating the wounded because they are extremely rough riding and the wounded complained of the unnecessary jarring adn jolting they received.
The most critical problem facing this battalion is the failure to receive trained Armored Force replacements. This Battalion has been overseas over 22 months and has never been able to get trained Armored Force replacements. When the Battalion is located where it can train new men from other branches of the service, this condition is not serious, but in combat when this is impossible, the trained men lost in combat cannot be replaced, this situation lowers the combat effectiveness of the Battalion to a very great extent.
June 1944: Disposition of the troops of this battalion on 1 June 1944.
The battalion was attached to the French Expeditionary Corps. …Company B (minus), Assault Gun Platoon and one (1) platoon of Companies C and D were in vicinity of CARPINETO (G240350), ITALY supporting the Fourth Moroccan Mountain Division.
Situation: … Tanks, SP Guns (AT) and towed AT Guns were encountered in selected, prepared and camouflaged positions using the “Hit and Run” tactics…
Period 2 June 1944. …One tank disabled by AP hit on track and one by direct artillery hit.
Period 3 June 1944. Co B with eight (8) tanks left in operating condition moved out in four different reconnaissance task forces, two (2) tanks per task force…
Period 12 June 1944. Cos B and D moved to vicinity of F150490 with mission of supporting the 4th Tunisian Regiment cutting Highway #74 at F160523. Co C moved to F230470 to support infantry of the 3rd Algerian Regiment. The Assault Gun Platoon moved into position at F203436 and fired at LATERA (A218499) with excellent results. Companies B, D and A attacked toward Highway #74 and met strong resitance with much anti-tank fire. Both A and B Companies lost one tank each by anti-tank fire. Tanks of Companies B and D repelled an enemy counterattack with much loss to the enemy. Co A repelled three (3) separate counterattacks in the vicinity A180500.
Period 13 June 1944. …Co A attacked the morning of 13 June with two platoons in the direction of Hwy #74 from A180500. At about 131430B, Capt Charles L.Ricks Jr, Company Commander of Co A and his senior Lieutenant, 1st Lt. Robert C.Thompson, were killed by Mortar fire while making a foot reconnaissance. At about 131830B 1st Lieutenant Robert Palfreyman, Company Commander of Company D, was killed by a sniper. The loss of these three fine officers, all experienced tank fighters, was a severe one. They were officers of the type that cannot be replaced.
Period 14 May 1944. …Infantry had taken S. QUIRICO and Italian Partisans were in SORANO when forward elements arrived there.
Period 15 May 1944…In CASTELL’AZZARA some resistance was met and the platoon leader of 3rd Platoon, Co. B, had the unusual experience of turning a sharp corner in the town and having a 75mm AT gun fire and miss him at a range of 15 yards. His tank fired at the same instant and did not miss. Snipers were so bad in the town that the tanks had to pull back to MONTE VITOZZA for the night…
Period 16 May 1944…Company C supporting 3 RTA advancing toward PIANCASTAGNAIO (A112742) from the south met stiff resistance from artillery and anti-tank fire and lost one tank and two crew members by anti-tank fire in vicinity of A133715…
Period 17 June 1944…The Assault Gun Platoon fired 455 rounds 105mm in the vicinity of PIACASTAGNAIO (A112742). All fire was observed and very good results were obtained.
Period 19 June 1944. ..The order had been cancelled in which the 755th Tank Battalion would be relieved, however, agreement was made to engage only one medium company until maintenance could be performed on vehicles. At this time Company B had only four (4) tanks operating.
Period 20 June 1944. Company A relieved elements of Companies B and C whose vehicles were badly in need of maintenance…
Period 26 June 1944… Lt.Turkale’s Third Platoon moved through CASTELNUOVO (V981838) and lost two tanks by enemy AT fire just North of the town.
Period 27 June 1944…Lt.Watson with three tanks moved from V834947 vicinity SANTO to vicinity M PESCINI where one (1) tank was disabled by AT mine…The Artillery Cub Plane directing artillery fire on enemy SP Guns relieved the tanks from a “Hot Spot” in the vicinity V804946.
Comments: It was found that it is essential that Tank Destroyers (M-10) be included in the Tank-Infantry-Artillery team. The 75mm gun now mounted on the M-4 tank cannot successfully combat the German Self-Propelled guns, Mark IV, Mark V, and Mark VI tanks. If the terrain permits, Tank Destroyers should overwatch the tanks as they move forward.
During this month’s operations, we had an Artillery Liaison Officer from the Artillery Group supporting us attached to the Battalion. The presence of this officer enabled the Battalion to have the use of the Artillery Piper Cub Plane to spot enemy tanks and strong points as well as direct the fire of our 105mm SP Guns (M-7). This Liaison Officer also gave the Field Artillery first hand information on the position of the friendly infantry and tanks thus permitting the artillery to fire many missions on German vehicles and infantry that were close to our front lines which would not have otherwise been fired.
NOTE: Company D had three commanders during June 1944.
Battle Report for July 1944:
Situation: The battalion was supporting the 3d DIA in the advance on SIENA (Q835185), ITALY. As the advance Northward proceeded, the enemy rear guard resistance became stiffer especially in the sectors where the terrain offered natural obstacles for the maneuver of Armor. Several strong points were encountered on the pattern of small arms, machine gun, mortar, artillery, self-propelled and tank fire, supplanted by extensive use of mines and demolitions.
Period 5 July 1944. The Cornet Groupment advanced to vicinity of BELVEDERE (Q698292) when approximately 100 enemy infantrymen supported by four (4) Mk VI tanks counterattacked ferociously. One platoon of TDs and one platoon of tanks went into position at Q698280 to aid in repelling the enemy counterattack…
Period 8 July 1944 Bevington Groupment moved to Q649313 to fire on enemy tanks which had held up the infantry advance; however, before our tanks and TDs got into firing positions the enemy tanks withdrew.
Period 19 July 1944. ..There were not enough Engineers to remove the AT mines so crew members from the tanks and TDs dismounted and gave the Engineers a helping hand in order to speed up the armored advance.
Comments: The Reconnaissance Platoon is not large enough and does not possess adequate equipment to clear mine fields and construct by-passes for the tanks. The Mortar Platoon was used in supplying the front line tanks as the half-tracks were more suitable than the 2 ½ ton truck.
Combat Lessons for July 1944. Third Platoon, Company “B”, 12 July 1944.
Lessons learned by this operation:
(1) Orders must be given to the lowest units in ample time to allow for reconnaissance and explanation to all crew members the situation.
(2) Infantry is necessary for tank security at night.
(3) Operations in close country: each tank should have a SCR 528 radio.
On the recent drive from Castelforte to Siena, I was a platoon leader in a medium tank company. We were working in direct support of the French infantry. A platoon of French tank destroyers were working with each of our platoons. Our objective one morning was Pico. All morning we had been receiving direct fire from tanks and anti-tank guns. By noon the fire of our tanks, M-7’s. French tank destroyers and artillery had either knocked out or driven back all immediate opposition. In this area the German tanks were firing from behind houses and when we located one we would concentrate all the fire at out disposal to demolish house and tank. In the morning I made a reconnaissance with a French tank destroyer officer and we selected some excellent firing positions on the side of a mountain overlooking a valley. At that time my tanks had smooth rubber tracks. It was necessary to climb some steep grades so the tank destroyers with steel tracks went first. I could not get enough traction, found it was impossible to follow them and had to select other firing positions in this area. Our forces were credited with four tanks, two anti-tank guns and one ammunition dump.
I believe we could have gotten at least another tank if we had had a more powerful sight in our tank. With the aid of my glasses I could see a Mark IV leaving the scene of action, my gunner could not see it through his sight. I directed the fire by using the corner of a house as an aiming point and the mill scale in my glasses, but the tank was in view for only a few seconds and it got away from us.
…We proceeded down the road a few hundred yards when a high velocity direct fire weapon opened up on my right flank. There as a bank on the right of the road which gave us some protection. The shells were missing the turret by a few feet and landing 50 yards to our left. I knew the direction they were coming from but could only guess at the distance. I directed the M-4’s fire into a house two hundred yards to our right and after a few rounds the house was torn down and I realized the fire was coming from a greater distance. I informed my company commander and he told me to send the tank destroyer around to put direct fire on this gun. I dismounted and met the [French] tank destroyer officer half way between our vehicles and told him the situation. He said he would try to get one of his vehicles in a position to neutralize this gun.
I returned to my tank and was about to climb up into the turret when a German machine gun opened up at my gunner who was closing the turret hatch. Just then an explosion went off and I felt a pain in my left arm. I realized it was a hand grenade and dove under the tank. I pounded on the bottom escape hatch with my helmet and just as my assistant gunner dropped the door, another explosion went off. This hit me in the rear and all I saw for a few seconds was a flash, black smoke and dust. I crawled up through the escape hatch and back into the turret. My gunner and my number two tank opened up with their coaxial 30 caliber machine guns and an occasional 75-mm high explosive, but the Germans were so well dug in we killed only a few. I called for more infantry and in a few minutes twenty prisoners were marching down the road.
The coordinates of the gun when located were sent back to our M-7’s and also to the French artillery which silenced it in a few minutes after they started firing….
1st Lt.Everett V. Watson, 755th Tank Bn.
Combat Report and Battle Lessons; Medium Tank Platoon, Company “B”, 757th Tank Battalion.
…the only example of poor judgment was outrunning the flank units so that when our objective was obtained at about 1430 hours, enemy artillery cross fire was terrific and took heavy toll of the infantry which was in hand to hand combat with the enemy. Both friendly and enemy artillery were supporting their troops as close as 100 yards and at times our own artillery ranging in smoke shells hit among the tanks…
1. All during the movement liaison was carried on by foot which caused much delay and work.
2. Tank commanders must use periscopes when in area of snipers.
3. Tanks should have a steel deflection plate with vision slit in front of the commander or some better indirect vision device or arrangement should b provided for tank commanders. One periscope is not enough for buttoned up operations.
4. A wire cutter, similar to those on peeps should be put on turret of tanks.
5. Large quantities of ammunition should not be carried loose in basket except in emergencies because of fire hazard when a tank gets hit, also the ammunition gets damaged (dented cases) which cause mis-fires.
6. BOG gun is useless when in close support of friendly infantry. The wrong man gets shot.
Robert S. L. Fisher
1st Lt., Co.”B”, 757th Tank Bn.
Battle Report for August 1944.
Disposition of troops of this battalion on 1 August 1944.
The battalion was attached to II Corps supporting the 91 Infantry Division (U.S.).
Period 20 August 1944. Eight (8) Rocket Launcher tanks, 760th and 752nd Tank Battalions and personnel attached to 755th Tank Battalion.
Period 21 August 1944. Battalion Commander and Company Commanders made reconnaissance of forward area vicinity _______ with officers of the 91 Infantry Division Artillery to select firing positions. The battalion will be attached to the Division Artillery for secondary role initially then revert to its primary role after a bridgehead has been established across the Arno River.
Period 25 August 1944….Training schedule continued with emphasis on indirect firing…
Battle Report for October 1944.
Period 3 October 1944…Company C attached to 916th Field Artillery Battalion fired 525 rounds 75mm HE in harassing fire. Company A (-) attached to 916th Field Artillery Battalion fired 700 rounds 75mm HE harassing fire. Assault Gun Platoon (105mm SP) attached to 346th Field Artillery Battalion fired 800 rounds HE in direct support of 362nd Infantry Regiment.
Period 4 October 1944. The weather was cool and rainy, fog reducing visibility to almost zero. At 1400A a coordinated attack of artillery, armor and Infantry was launched on LOLANO (L864236), ITALY. One (1) Platoon of tanks from Company A advanced to South-East edge of town where the two leading tanks were destroyed (burned) by AT weapons…
Period 12 October 1944. Two (2) platoons of Company B took up indirect firing position vicinity CASONI (L874260), ITALY, and fired approximately 700 rounds 75mm HE harassing fire during night of 12th-13th October 1944…Three (3) tanks of Company C moved to LA CADELLA (L055277), ITALY and fired approximately 300 rounds 75mm HE on enemy positions vicinity Hill 578 (L836288) in support of 34th Infantry Division.
Period 13 October 1944. …Company C continued to give direct fire support to 361st Infantry Regiment by firing on enemy positions and SP Guns vicinity LIVERGNANO (L874296), ITALY.
Period 17 October 1944. A tank attack up Highway #65 North of LIVERGNANO, (874296), ITALY was called for by 361st Infantry Regiment. Three (3) tanks of Company C were employed initially, two (2) of which were destroyed by enemy AT weapons. A platoon of Company C was taken out of indirect firing position and sent to vicinity Hill 474 (L877314) where it joined the remaining tank… Companies A & B fired harassing missions expended 2100 rounds of 75mm HE.
Period 18 October 1944…Assault Gun Platoon (Six (6) M-7’s) fired 1042 rounds 105mm HE on enemy strong points personnel and harassing missions.
Period 19 October 1944. On this day it was learned that the enemy planned a counter-attack of division strength down Highway #65…The Assault Gun Platoon had reduced their expenditures. The supply of 105mm ammunition had become critical.
Period 20 October 1944. …Platoons in secondary role expended 2520 rounds 75mm HE in harassing missions. Restrictions were placed on 75mm ammunitiion.
Period 21 October 1944…Tanks in secondary role continued harassing fire expending 1587 rounds 75mm HE.
Period 23 October 1944. ..During this period Companies A, B, & C expended 765 rounds 75mm HE with satisfactory results.
Period 24 October 1944. During this period the Tank Companies expended 650 rounds with satisfactory results. The Battalion was allotted 4,000 rounds 75mm ammunition and no 105mm ammunition for the period 241800A through 311800A October 1944.
Period 25 October 1944…Tanks in secondary role expended 900 rounds 75mm HE on harassing missions.
Period 26 through 31st October 1944. This was a period of almost continuous rain and fog.
Comments: The SCR 300 has proven very successful. The M4A3 tanks seem to be the answer with the 76mm gun. The personnel object to the huge muzzle blast because it temporarily blinds the Tank Commander from seeing the target and it is also easier for the enemy to locate the gun position. Install fuel filters on engines. The one filter provided at base of fuel tank is not considered sufficient. A drain plug should be provided on the main fuel tanks to facilitate cleaning of tank.
Battle Report for January 1945.
Disposition of the troops of the Battalion on 1st January 1945.
The Battalion minus Companies A and B and Provisional Headquarters was attached to the 91st Infantry Division Artillery. Companies A and B and Provisional Headquarters were attached to Task Force 45 and further attached to 107 Anti Aircraft Artillery Group in the IV Corps Sector.
Period 1 January 1945. ..Companies A and B and Provisional Headquarters were located in the vicinity of San Meroello (L429014) ITALY. Their primary mission was to make the presence of armor in the area known. Demonstrations through the towns and villages were nearly stopped by the end of December due largely to icy road conditions…
Period 2 – 7 January 1945. …On 2 January 1945 plans were made to use the Assault Gun Platoon of Headquarters Company (6 M4A3 tanks w/105mm Howitzers) for direct fire support of the infantry in case of enemy attack down the Savena Valley South and east of MONTERIMICI.
Period 15 January 1945…Eight (8) tank crews from Companies A and B moved to vicinity ______…and relieved crews of the 760th Tank Battalion and A Squadron 25 CADE [Canadian?].
Period 16 thru 31 January 1945. On the 17th January 1945 two (2) tank crews of 760th Tank Battalion were relieved by crews of this battalion making a total of ten (10) tanks taken over.
2. It is poor practice to exchange crews within a unit or crews of different units and expect proper maintenance and supply discipline be kept up to efficient standards.
Battle Report for February 1945:
Disposition of troops of the Battalion on 1 February 1945.
The Battalion was attached to the 89th Infantry Division. Ten medium tanks, four of the 12 Canadian Armoured Regiment and six of 760th Tank Battalion, had been taken over in place by this Battalion. These tanks were strung generally along the secondary road from I865297 to 000333 with the foremost two within 300 yards of known enemy machine gun nests. For the most part these tanks were immovible [sic], some having thrown tracks and others engine compartments full of water and ice. Three M4A3 76mm tanks, two of Company “A” and one of Company “B” were in position in the vicinity of S. CLEMENTE (L994268) to stop an armored thrust down the valley. Eight M4 75mm tanks, four of Company “A” and four of Company “B”, were in indirect firing pisitions at L975277 and one M4A3 76mm tank f Company “B” was in reserve in the same area. The Assault Gun Platoon of Headquarters Company, six M4A3 105mm tanks, was in indirect firing position at L972271.
Three M18s of the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion had been attached, in place at L997328, to this Headquarters for operations. Their mission, the direct fire support of the infantry, remained unchanged.
Opposing the 85th Infantry Division in the line were two Parachute Regiments of the crack German 1st Parachute Division. These troops were strongly emplaced behind extensive minefields with strong automatic weapons support.
Period 3 to 28th February 1945… The Battalion. (less tanks, 62 EM and 2 Officers) moved from vicinity of Covigliste (L856094) at 240001A to vicinity of Pisa (Q053632), closing at 2400A.
Our activities in this locality are confined to the preparation for amphibious operations controlled by Col Green of the 39th Engineers Combat Regiment.
Battle Report for April 1945.
Amphibious Operations with the Eighth Army:
Disposition of troops of the Battalion on 1 April 1945: The battalion was located at LAKE TRASIMENE (N400960).
The Battalion was attached to the 9th Armoured Brigade (Eighth Army) for combined amphibious operations on LAKE COMACCHIO and was preparing to operate amphibious vehicles – Landing Vehicle, Tracked (Water Buffalo) in a lake crossing operation. Plans called for carrying infantry and equipment, landing well in the rear of the enemy lines, then building up the beachhead, from which blows against enemy installations could be projected. Previously, the 755th Tank Battalion had been reorganized from a battalion operating 60 medium and 17 light tanks, to a battalion operating three “Fantail” squadrons of 38 LVT’s each. Battalion, or Regimental (in British terms) Headquarters carried 5 vehicles, making a total of 119 vehicles under battalion control. For training and operations, we had worked in conjunction with a regiment of the Royal Army Supply Corps–RASC–the Brtish quartermaster branch. They had trained QM personnel to operate combat vehicles. The Headquarters of the 755th, and A and B “Squadrons” (instead of companies now) were to be used in the first operation. The RASC and the 2/7 Lancers (British Armoured Car troops) had been equipped and trained with LVT’s from American sources. Some LVT’s had been fitted out to carry 25 pounders, and others specially fitted out as recovery vehicles, ambulances, evacuation vehicles, and engineer mat laying vehicles. Further, since the operation was a joint British-American one, it was necessary to equip some of the command vehicles with both British and American radios, down to and including squadron, or company commanders and navigators.
11 April 1945 saw the execution of OPERATION IMPACT. The 755th carried the 2/5 and the 2/6 Queens, part of the 169th Infantry Brigade (British) across the flooded area south of LAKE COMACCHIO proper from a launching site at M492556. The objectives were _____ (M418588) and LONGOSTRINO (M420573). The 2/7 Queens, initially in reserve, were carried in the “reinforcing” or build up, completing the operation successfully. The front lines were advanced two to three miles, prisoners were taken, and equipment captured.
13 April 1945, the Battalion carried out OPERATION IMPACT ROYAL. The American squadrons used were the same, the launching area the same. The infantry carried were part of 24th Guards Brigade. They were the No.9 Commando Battalion and the 1st Buffs. Objectives were in the vicinity of M356613 and M344621. The plan was, as before, to advance the infantry front lines and to cause a diversion of enemy troops from the left flank of the Eighth Army to the right by this “right hook” tactic. The Germans had already begun to divert and this second operation was intended to hasten the diversion. It was successful therefore. However, opposition to the second lading was heavy, since the enemy was prepared to meet us on his own ground. The landing site for one Fantail squadron and the infantry battalion it was carrying was unobtainable, so that landing was accomplished at another place. Effect of the second and last of the amphibious operations was to cause the enemy to divert troops from another sector on such a scale as to facilitate advance along another part of the front.
19-22 April 1945: Strength 15 x 17lbers, 17 x M4A3s, 17 x M4 75s, 17 x M24 Light Tanks.
24 April 1945: HQ and Company A moved from Prato to Rubiera and attached to 31st Inf.Div. Encounter German tanks and SPs in Reggio. Knock out 3 German Tanks in Busseto.
3. TANK ACTION IN THE PO VALLEY:
Disposition of the troops of the Battalion on 25 April 1945 [referred to overlay.]
The Battalion had been equipped with Medium Tanks, M4 and M4A3, one company of 17 Pounders (British guns), and one company of M24 Light Tanks and concentrated in the vicinity of MODENA, on Highway 9, ready to support the attack of the 34th Infantry Division down that highway. The mission was to cut off any German forces attempting to cross the PO en route north. The 1st Armored Division was on the right and the Brazilian Expeditionary Force on the left flank. The Battalion (less 3 officers and 40 EM running Fantails on the PO RIVER crossing) was attached to the 34th Infantry Division.
26th April 1945. Company ” _” was in support of the 135th Infantry Regiment in a rapid advance down Highway 9. Light opposition was encountered. Company “B” moved in support or the 133rd Infantry Regiment on the right flank of the Division. They ran into a firefight, small arms and German self-propelled artillery, in the vicinity of ______.
27th April 1945. Company ” “, with one platoon of Company “B” and the 105mm Howitzer S.P. Section, supported the 135th Infantry Regiment. Small arms and self-propelled artillery fire were received. Two of our tanks and one 105mm were knocked out by SP fire. We knocked out one 88mm gun. Company “B” with one platoon Company “D” attached, in support of the 133d Infantry Regiment, knocked out three Mark IV tanks, meeting resistance and taking 700 to 1000 prisoners.
PO RIVER CROSSING:
24 April 1945. Forty men of Company “C”, manning a total of 20 Landing Vehicles, Tracked (Water Buffalo), carried the 349th Infantry Regiment, the 351st Infantry Regiment, and units of the 85th Infantry Division and the 91st Infantry Division across the PO RIVER, launching from a site in the vicinity of OSTIGLIA REVERE (F7413) near Highway 12. The first crossing was made under artillery and sniper fire at 1500B, LVT’s carrying first the infantry, then peeps, trailers, and supplies. A small bulldozer was also borne across the PO. Fantail operations for reinforcing and building up continued through 25 April 1945, day and night, evacuation of casualties, etc., and ferrying until a bridge was constructed across the PO RIVER.
26 April 1045. Six Fantails, manned by men of Company “C”, carried the 350th Infantry Regiment across the ADIGE RIVER south of VERONA (F6555) at 1315B. Peeps and trailers were across at 2100B, and building up crossings continued until the VERONA railroad bridge was discovered and put to use at approximately 272200B April 1945.
In the amphibious operations conducted on Lake Commochio it was decided that the operation was to be made in daylight or as soon after first light as possible. The flooded fields in which the operation was to take place had numerous obstacles and much shallow water where previous experiments had shown that LVT’s would have difficulty if the bottom was soft. So to insure that control was maintained in this first operation and that the maximum number of troops reached the beach in their proper organization, the trip was made in daylight, under cover of smoke. The breeze was mild, not more than 2 or 3 mph and blowing toward the rear, parallel to our advance. This covered our exposed left flank LVT’s carrying smoke pots proceeded the main column. On approaching shore, land based artillery fired smoke on the shore. Smoke coverage was excellent and LVT’s and troops went ashore against very little fire.
This operation was definitely a success, not only taking several hundred prisoners and gaining about three miles on the enemy’s left flank, but also drew his reserves away from the Argenta Gap, where the main effort of the Eighth Army was to be made…
The second operation, not so successful from a landing point of view, was successful strategically for it drew the 26th Panzer Division from the Argenta area to the vicinity of the landing. Smoke coverage was poor due to a strong wind blowing from the enemy toward us. The first wave of LVT’s were met with heavy fire of all types while still in shallow water. Eleven LVT’s were destroyed by AT, bazooka and Artillery fire. One conclusion can be drawn, namely that such a landing must be fully covered with smoke Mortars, as 4.2″ should be mounted in LVT’s to provide close coverage for the assaulting force. Even at night, as protection against flares, provisions must be made for smoke to blind the enemy.