HISTORY OF THE 351ST INFANTRY REGIMENT FOR THE MONTH OF

May 1945

Submitted: 

9 June 1945

Attachments: 

          May has been a month of great news; for with the surrender of German forces the long, hard, Italian fighting ended. On the eventful day the 351st Infantry was at Borgo, Italy, in contact with an old enemy, the 1st Paratroop Division. This same enemy unit had fought stubbornly and fanatically near Mount Grande; and it was the 1st Parachute Regiment that had captured Company G at Vedriano. To see the despised enemy at close range and not fight with him was an incredible experience for the combat-wise infantrymen of the 351st Infantry. A person felt insecure; but by the terms of the surrender certain Germans were allowed to bear arms. It seemed fantastic that armed Germans and armed Americans marched along the roads and occupied small hamlets at the same time. The Germans seemed indifferent; however, they did not display indolence or create unnecessary disturbance. They carried out our orders in a spiritless manner of resignation. There were a few instances of failure to cooperate, but the German authorities, when informed, took strong disciplinary action.

 

          The actual surrender required a number of parleys with the Germans and lasted for two days. At 1440 hours, 2 May 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Rennecke, Commanding the 1st Parachute Regiment entered the First Battalion outpost area with a white flag and was taken to the First Battalion Forward Command Post in the western outskirts of Borgo, Italy. An interpreter accompanied the German officer who wore decorations and whose boots shone brightly. The First Battalion immediately notified the Regimental Commander who directed them to hold the German officer until he could arrive. The meeting took place in the street in front of the Battalion Command Post where a cordon of Rangers were placed around the group to keep curious civilians and many by-standers away.

 

          Colonel Rennecke announced that his Division (1st Para) had been informed that an armistice had taken effect at 1400, that under it both sides were to stand fast, moving only supply vehicles. He said it had been arranged by Marshal Kesselring and Field Marshal Alexander.

 

          No such word had been received by the 351st, but the appearance of an officer of Rennecke's rank seemed to eliminate the possibility of any trickery.

 

          At the moment, the 351st was halted, due to repairs on a bridge being necessary for passage of tanks, and the continuation of mop-up action in Borgo's western outskirts.

 

          Colonel Miller replied that no such order had been received, that he would receive the unconditional surrender of Colonel Rennecke or his whole Division, but would not forward him as an accredited emissary without necessary papers signed by a Corps Commander.

 

          Colonel Rennecke stated his Division Commander had proceeded to Corps to obtain such papers and would be back in an hour. He also stated that the Germans had orders to fire, if the Americans advanced.

 

          Knowing that advance with tank support would be impossible for an estimated forty minutes, the Regimental Commander ordered Colonel Rennecke to return to the German lines, agreeing to a one hour armistice in the sector of the road, with Colonel Rennecke agreeing to return within an hour if humanly possible as an accredited representative who could be forwarded to Division.

 

          There was neither wire nor radio contact with 88th Division at the time. An officer courier was dispatched to Division, radio relay stations were increased; but no answer to the puzzle was obtainable.

 

          Meantime, the bridge was repaired, Infantry deployed, and the town of Roncegno was occupied.

 

          One hour having elapsed, and no word from Division having been received, the advance was resumed.

 

          Within three hundred yards savage resistance was met. As this resistance developed, a message was received from 88th Division that they had no knowledge of an armistice and that the regiment would push on to the objective, Trento.

 

          In the ensuing battle five men and one officer of the First Battalion were killed, and four men wounded. Later the Germans claimed about twenty-eight Germans were killed, but visual evidence is available from American sources to confirm eight only.

 

          After the attack had progressed about four hundred yards, Major Margold of the 1st Para Division (German) staff appeared under a white flag, bearing a letter from General Schulz of the 1st Para Division to General Kendall stating the terms of the "armistice" as understood by him. They coincided with Colonel Rennecke's previously given verbal message.

 

          The letter was forwarded to 88th Division Head­quarters, and the German sent back to his lines, since he lacked credentials from a Corps Commander, which had been specified in a directive from II Corps as necessary.

 

          At 1830 hours, B.B.C. and A.E.F. radio broadcasts having been repeatedly heard at Regiment, to the effect that the German Forces in Italy had surrendered, the Regimental Commander gave the order to cease fire to avoid further loss of life. This decision was confirmed at 1840, when a representative from Division G-3 arrived with orders to press on to the objective, but realized on hearing the broadcasts and seeing the local situation, that to do so would inevitably result in heavy casualties, after the war was over. At 1850, the same German representative, Major Margold, appeared at the outpost and announced that he had to report failure to procure a Corps Commanders letter of credential, that the Parachute Corps had been told again to hold fast and not fire unless the Americans advanced, but that they were to do nothing about surrender until further orders came from 14th German Army which was in contact with 5th American Army. Further; as an evidence of good faith, 1st Para Division would withdraw its out-post line five hundred yards to avoid friction.

 

          At 2204, the Assistant Division Commander, Colonel James C. Fry, arrived with confirming orders to hold in place, that the war was over. The regiment held in place, alert for action, and there was no elation at victory--the situation still remained too tense.

 

          The next morning, 3 May, Major Edmonson and Lieutenant Delfiner were sent by the Regimental Commander, Colonel P. Miller, to confer with General Schulz of the 1st Para Division. General Schulz reiterated willingness to comply with any order of 14th Army (German) regarding surrender, but would not act until ordered. This was a direct order from the 1st German Para Corps Commander, General Heidrich.

 

          This agreement was made that an emissary would be sent instantly on receiving such orders to inform 351st Infantry.

 

          The situation remained thus strained until late afternoon of 4 May. Meanwhile, the Regimental Commander, Colonel Franklin P. Miller, felt that too much opportunity for improving positions was being allowed the Germans, in case they decided to adopt guerrilla or "werewolf" tactics. Appealing to and receiving permission from General Kendall, Major Edmonson and Lieutenant Delfiner were sent to 1st Para Division Headquarters--and received information there that serious Partisan difficulties were arising and that General Heidrich would be glad to discuss surrender, if it could be honorably done, with the Regimental Commander opposing him.

 

          The Regimental Commander, at once drove to 1st Parachute Division Headquarters, took the surrender of General Schulz, sent for the regiment to advance at once and take over, then started with a German guide car for 1st Para Corps Headquarters at San Cristoforo. Accompanying him were Major Edmonson, Regimental Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Delfiner, Interrogation Officer, and Technician Fifth Grade Peters, the Commanding Officer's driver.

 

          Arriving at Para Corps Headquarters, the Regimental Commander found that the 1st Para Division Headquarters at Levico had been attacked by Partisans, and five American guards wounded--despite the fact all lights were on and vehicle lights were playing on the building. Also; 4th Para Division Headquarters was under attack, and Corps Headquarters was threatened.

 

          Informing the Corps Commander, General of Paratroops Heidrich, that "this nonsense-could not continue", Colonel Miller found the General was holding his men under rigid discipline preventing guerrilla desires, and was willing to surrender, if 14th Army would give orders to do so.

 

          A phone call was directed to 14th German Army by the Corps Chief of Staff at Colonel Miller's order and 14th Army decided to allow the 1st Para Corps to surrender, despite lack of such orders from Von Veitinghoff.

 

         

           Thereupon the 1st Para Corps surrendered at 0135 on 5 May. It proved to be composed of:

 

               1st Para Division      Major General Karl Lothar Schulz

 

               4th Para Division      General Heinrich Trettner 26th Panzer

 

          Group Boemler

 

              Strength approximately three thousand, plus supporting artillery

 

          Group Hacker

 

               Armored cars and self-propelled guns

 

          Corps Artillery          General Von Isslinger

 

               (with twenty-four mobile 88's and forty-eight fixed mount A.A. dual purpose 88's plus sundry 40 millimeter guns)

 

          This was the only unit in Italy, so far as can be discovered, which was relatively intact, with armor, artillery, and ammunition, plus the organization to make an effective resistance.

 

          Phone calls were instantly sent to Group Boemler to allow free passage of the 10th Mountain Division northward.

 

          Because the 26th Panzer was so far north as to be out of reach by the 351st Regimental Combat Team, orders were sent to it to surrender by sending white flags to whatever American troops appeared first. 26th Panzer was the reserve of the 14th Army, and was later administratively removed from Para Corps Command due to distance.

 

          The total effectives in 1st Para Corps at time of surrender was over fifteen thousand officers and men, plus some five thousand service and anti-aircraft troops, but excluding the 26th Panzer and 278th Divisions. The 278th Division had been out of contact with Corps for five days and was presumed destroyed.

 

          Establishing guards, and leaving lights on until dawn, the Commanding Officer ordered a conference of all unit Commanders (German) at Para Corps Headquarters at 0800, and sent for the Partisan leader at Trento--well known to the Germans.

 

          On his arrival, arrangements were made for Partisan attacks to cease, but they were asked to retain arms until further orders. Considerable difficulty was experienced in presenting the idea to the Partisan chief due to language difficulties and the confused situation. The German command evidently knew and had know him for some time, but had considered him a "steadying influence" and had not disturbed his efforts.

 

          At about 0330 Brigadier General Lewis arrived at San Cristoforo and obtained a signed surrender, verifying the previous verbal arrangements.

 

          Thereafter the German staff was ordered out of the San Cristoforo Hotel, the 351st Combat Team Headquarters set up therein, and some sleep obtained before the 08 00 meeting.

 

          At 0800, instructions were issue to concentrate the Corps in the area Trento, Pergine, Levico Borgo, and all Generals and Group commander were sent under guard to the Division Commander, Major General Paul W. Kendall.

 

          As a matter of interest, it might be added that the Combat group Boemler was at one time to have been the nucleus for a new Para Division, to be numbered the tenth; however, the formation was never made. The mission of this combat group at the time of the surrender had been to hold the Rovereto area. The accompanying map shows the 1st Para Corps boundaries and the locations of troops. It is the 1st Para Corps situation as of 2 May 1945.

 

          In this sector and adjacent sectors many other German formations surrendered and were evacuated by the 351st Infantry; and included the 14th Panzer Corps, commanded by Fridolin Von Senger und Etterlin, General of Panzer Troops and the 51st Mountain Corps commanded by Lieutenant General of Artillery Hauck. Separate organizations included the 16th SS Division, the 25th Flak Division, the 94th Panzer Grenadier Division, many Organization Todt members, special railway battalions, a Sanitation Regiment, a Medical Regiment, a Signal Regiment, and a Railway Guard Regiment. All of these troops were part of the 14th German Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Lemelsen.

 

          Apropos at this time would be a brief description of the surrounding country. Borgo is in the Italian mountains approximately fifty miles north of Verona which is on the northern edge of the Po Valley. The mountain ranges in this province are known as The Dolomites and are two and three times higher than those through which the regiment battled its way up the Italian peninsula from the Garigliano River.

 

          They are carpeted with velvety green trees and foliage; except for those that jut up to such a great altitude that plant life does not exist and where they are eternally capped with snow. In these mountains the German Organization Todt spent years constructing elaborate fortifications that came to be known as the Southern Redoubt. These were the lower defenses of the Inner-Fortress. It was here that the Wehrmacht would make its last stand, an imponderable that failed to materialize. It has been a great good fortune that American arms did not have to batter their way through these almost impregnable defenses. There are only a few good highways along which an attacking force might advance. In the gorges thousands of concrete obstacles such as pyramidal dragons teeth and deep anti-tank ditches cover all approaches; and fortresses from the first World War still remain whose defenses were subsequently modernized. The civilian population inhabits small villages along the valleys and on the mountain sides. The homes and buildings of these people are neatly kept and the architectural forms have a simplicity and purity of character that indicates a greater degree of development than that which exists in Central and Southern Italy. The inhabitants appear to have greater civic pride evidenced by clean streets and efficient public utilities systems. This province has been a refreshing land to war­weary Americans.

 

          An idea of the vastness of the district occupied by the 351st Infantry can be visualized when one considers that the area occupied is nearly twice the size of the state of Delaware. The actual measurements of the 351st zone is two thousand eight hundred and forty-five square miles. From this district over fifty-two thousand German troops were evacuated by the end of May.

 

          There is no accurate count or listing of the immense quantities of enemy material secured. In the main valley along the Brenner Pass route, north and south of Trento, ninety-one 88 millimeter anti-aircraft cannon, thirty-six of these with radar equipment, were located. At least thirty thousand rifles, eight thousand machine pistols, two thousand machine guns, two hundred mortars, five 37 millimeter guns, four 75 millimeter howitzers, two hundred and fifty 20 millimeter cannon and large quantities of ammunition of all types were collected. Thousands of motor vehicles ranging in size from the flimsy little "Volkswagens" to large heavy trucks and prime movers, were confiscated. These vehicles were of great use in transporting enemy personnel to the concentration areas at Modena, Bassano, and Ghedi. They also were used to haul German supplies and to collect ammunition dumps. In the Lake Garda area a number of submarines and motor boats were found unharmed. The motor boats were rather interesting for they contained heavy explosive charges and radio control equipment.

 

          Many warehouses were found bulging with such items as dry goods, chinaware, cooking utensils, furniture, toilet articles, and other household goods. Most of these items were of Italian manufacture but had been seized by the Germans for their own use. German medical supplies were placed under guard and reserved for German use. At first, looting by civilians presented a problem but as soon as the regiment could reach these warehouses they were barred from all persons and placed under guard.

 

          The Germans had many mercenary troops and slave laborers throughout this area. There were Czechoslovakians, Russians, Yugoslavs, Italians, Austrians, Poles, and large numbers of Italian civilians. All of these troops and laborers were used as service troops. Many were required in keeping the rail lines leading north to the Brenner Pass in operation. The civilians, now liberated, trekked to the south in disorganized streams, riding trucks, bicycles, and walking.

 

          The mission of the 351st Infantry upon cessation of hostilities was to locate; collect, and guard surrendered enemy forces preparatory to their evacuation to concentration areas in the Po Valley. The regiment also was responsible for the evacuation of these troops. Using German and American trucks, convoys were made up with American officers in command and normal motor movement regulations applied. March Tables were published that were indeed strange to look at. The issuing headquarters was Headquarters 351st Infantry but the march units were German Units such as the 1st Para Regiment, Combat Team Boemler, and perhaps Headquarters 14th Panzer Corps.

 

          Occupation of towns was by company. Smaller out­lying towns were occupied by platoons. Motor patrols operated throughout the 351st Infantry zone. These patrols went to Verona, the territory northwest Lake Garda, Bassano, and Vicenza. Company Commanders became a number of officials in one person. They were AMG officers, CIC officers, town mayors, and head of the local police, at the same time. Company L commanded by Captain Albert F. Reinwart, Jr., occupied the city of Rovereto and its outlying communities. The story of this occupation is typical of those of the other companies of the regiment.

 

          Captain Reinwart, an Infantry officer, became the head administrator of a city of twenty thousand persons and for three weeks ruled the town. The 14th Panzer Corps was concentrated in the Rovereto area and numbered twenty­two thousand troops. This Corps consisted of the 305th Infantry Division, the 94th Panzer Granadier Division, the 65th Infantry Division, the 8th Mountain Division, the 914th Flak Battalion, Corps Headquarters and Service Units. There were other German troops in this area including: The 626th Railroad Battalion, Pioneer Companies, and Signal Detachments. Captain Reinwart received daily morning reports on the strength of these units and had three German officers near, but not in, his headquarters for liaison. In addition to the above mentioned personnel there was one Hungarian woman, one French woman, and two German women, who had been working as secretaries at the Organization Todt Headquarters in Rovereto. These women uncertain of their fate, wondered what would become of themselves; but they were evacuated without incident to the concentration area at Modena.

 

          While Captain Reinwart was acting as town mayor many domestic problems arose, many of them boring and tedious, but not all without humor. There was the case in which two Italians, one owning a cow, and the other a horse, wanted permission to trade with each other. On another occasion, an Italian requested permission to go to Milano for the purpose of visiting his girlfriend. Captain Reinwart's office consisted of an outer and inner office. In the outer office his interpreter handled all of the minor civilian problems and brought the more important ones to Captain Reinwart for his decision.

 

          The warehouses in the vicinity were bulging. Three thousand sewing machines were located, hundreds of bolts of cloth and uniform material, sweaters, refrigeration units, rubber matting, and kitchen equipment. Numerous ammunition dumps were placed under guard and two hundred and twenty-five horses were assembled. Some of these animals were made available to the civilians; especially those who had horses stolen or killed by the Germans.

 

          For the most part the Germans gave little trouble. A few isolated cases are worthy of mention. The 94th Division billeted near Rovereto and occupying homes of many Italians was ordered to move out as directed by Regimental Headquarters. This order was not promptly complied with and Captain Reinwart delivered the following ultimatum to the Commander of that unit: "Move your troops into the fields immediately; if you do not do so we will move you, including yourself, into the fields". The Germans complied.

 

          Another incident is that of the German General Ihne. General Ihne had been reported in the Rovereto area in civilian clothes harbored by Italian civilians. When he was apprehended he objected to the treatment he received and said that a British AMG officer had told him to demand treatment fitting his rank. He said that he wanted to see an American Colonel. The British officer who had given General Ihne this advice was located and consulted. It was true, he had told the General these things; and he further stated that he could not understand the reactions of American Officers and the courtesy they used in this situation. He said it was different in the British Army; they treated captured officers with the respect due their rank. The Regimental Commander, consulted by phone, said he was too busy to see General Ihne, even out of curiosity. Further, the General would be treated "like any other Kraut in civilian clothes". Accordingly Lieutenant Edward P. Toomey took the General to Verona to the Army Prison Cage and brought back the following receipt signed by a Staff Sergeant: "Received of Lieutenant Toomey--1 German General".

 

          The largest city in the Regimental area was Trento. Here the service elements of the 351st Infantry were located. Major Charles D. Edmonson, Regimental Intelligence Officer, established a prisoner of war cage where German stragglers and all other unauthorized persons were collected and evacuated to the south. Through this cage representatives of nearly all European nations passed. There were German WAC's, French Workers, Czechoslovakians, Yugoslavians, Hungarians, Austrians, Romanians, and Russians. Because Trento is centrally located and on the main supply route Major William H. Klein, Regimental Supply Officer, established ration, gasoline and oil, and clothing dumps there. A theatre in Trento was requisitioned and the Information and Education film "Two Down and One to Go" was shown to the Regiment.

 

          Early in the month, the 351st Infantry took over the 10th Mountain Division zone which included Lake Garda and territory northwest of Verona. On the north shore of this lake is situated the once famous spa, Riva. Rising suddenly from the shores of the lake and above Riva are magnificent mountains. The vista is breathtaking because of the incredible sheerness of the towering heights. Lake Garda itself is a pleasant and refreshing sight and its color ranging from deep azure to ultra marine to turquoise, and to sky blue, arrests the eye. Here in this beautiful spot the Third Battalion was located.

 

          On 30 May 1945 representatives from the Friuli Group (Italian) arrived and plans were made for the relief of the 351 Infantry Regiment within the regimental zone. The Folgore Group and Friuli Group would make this relief. Division Headquarters ordered that the relief be completed no later than 3 June 1945.

 

          The Regiment has spent a most pleasant month in a land characterized by scenic grandeur; but there was also much work to be done. The evacuation of over fifty-two thousand surrendered Germans and the collection and listing of vast quantities of enemy material was not an easy job; however, it was a job well done, which in itself, is a testimonial of the 351st Infantry's ability to accomplish any assigned task.

 

          F. P. MILLER,

          Colonel, 351st Infantry,

          Commanding.

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