HISTORY OF THE 351ST INFANTRY REGIMENT FOR THE MONTH OF
7 February 1945
The 351st Infantry Regiment welcomed 1945 from foxholes in the Italian Appenines. From the American soldier's standpoint it was hardly a spectacular way to celebrate the coming of a new year; however, all were glad to see 1944 end. Glad because it terminated two hundred five days of combat; including, the defensive operations in the Cassino and Garigliano sectors, the May 11th Offensive with its bloody battle of Santa Maria Infante, the long trek through the mountains to Rome, the bitter Tuscany fighting from Volterra to the Arno River, including the highly successful and decisive Laiatico engagement; and then, the later, critical operations following the initial penetrations of the Gothic Line; including Castel Del Rio, Mount Cappello, Gesso, Montecaldero, and the disappointment at Vedriano, farthest point reached by Fifth Army troops in its effort to cut Highway No. 9. Through all this fighting the regiment has distinguished itself by the brave actions of individuals, fine soldiers, true Americans, some of whom, it is deeply regretted; are no longer with the regiment; but they are not forgotten and their deeds continue to be an inspiration to those who remain.
The first twelve days of 1945 saw the regiment occupying the defensive positions including Mount Belmonte. The 2d and 3d Battalions were disposed forward and the 1st Battalion in reserve near Mount Della Formiche to constitute the left forward regiment of the 88th Division sector. The regiment had relieved the 168th Infantry on the night of 30 December 1944. January 12, 1945 the regiment moved to Montecatini Terme ending a period of sixty days in the line. Eight days were spent at Montecatini, the first five being rest and the last three training in accordance with 88th Division Training Memorandum No 1, dated 13 January 1945. On the night of January 22, 1945 the regiment, having moved north on Highway 65 by truck, relieved the 361st Infantry of the 91st Division in the vicinity of Livergnano, Italy. The month of January ended with the regiment occupying these positions; which made up the right forward regimental sector of the division. Throughout the month, in both sectors, aggressive patrolling was conducted and not without a profitable catch in prisoners taken, the total number being nine; which, incidentally, was the total number taken by the division for the month. A limited number of passes to Florence and Rome were granted during the month which provided much appreciated diversion for the officers and men permitted to go.
While at Montecatini Terme, men and officers were awarded decorations at a ceremony held January 18, 1945. Lieutenant Colonel Franklin P. Miller, Regimental Executive Officer, presented the awards which included two Silver Stars, sixty-nine Bronze Stars and one Legion of Merit. At an extremely impressive ceremony on the morning of January 17, 1945, General Mark W. Clark, Commanding General of the Fifteenth Army Group in Italy, comprising the Fifth American Army and the Eighth British Army, awarded a Presidential Citation to the 3d Battalion, 351st Infantry, cited for its actions at the Battle of Laiatico, Italy, July 9-12, 1944. General Lucian K. Truscott, 5th Army Commander, General A.M. Grunther, General Paul W. Kendall, 88th Division Commander, Colonel Arthur S. Champeny, Regimental Commander, 351st Infantry, and Colonel James C. Fry, Regimental Commander, 350th Infantry, were present. Colonel Robert C. McBride, Chief of Staff, 88th Infantry Division read the orders. The Division Band played for the ceremony.
At Montecatini the Regimental Commander addressed the assembled officers of the regiment at which time he expressed his happiness at having an opportunity of having all officers present at one time. Colonel Champeny's talk stressed the need for aggressive leadership in companies and battalions, mentioning also that all battalion officers must spend as much time as possible in their sectors learning the situation thoroughly. Concerning replacements the Colonel made the following stipulations: They must have at least two weeks training and indoctrination with the Regimental Replacement Company before joining companies; they must be oriented better by company officers and non-commissioned officers after joining their new organizations; they must be taught to understand the seriousness of absence without leave, and the shame it involves; not only personally, but also, to their unit; and they must also be made aware of the high standards demanded by the regiment and division. The wearing of the uniform, saluting, sanitation and hygiene, are all important things to remember; as trivial as they might appear. On the subject of patrolling the following factors were highlighted: Formation (always a get-away man), security (bear security in mind at all times), routes (don't choose the easy routes, they are frequently mined), firefights (don't indulge in ineffective exchanges of small arms fire beyond the effective night ranges of the weapons you use --close with the enemy and depend on the hand grenade and bayonet; and above all, accomplish your mission --reach your objective. The Colonel concluded his talk by reminding all officers present of the responsibilities they must assume and the trust placed in them by their country. Learn to know all your men --instill confidence in them.
Since the pause in the offensive operations of the northward drive last October, the regiment has steadily achieved progress in rehabilitation, training, and morale. Marked progress has been made in patrolling. Patrolling is the most effective form of small unit training. It teaches officers, non-commissioned officers, and men how to operate as small independent groups. It instills self-confidence and demonstrates more lucidly than in any other manner the basic Infantry role of closing with the enemy and destroying him in close combat.
Several of our successful patrols are worthy of special mention. Two of these patrols led by Lt. Ralph Decker, Jr., resulted in the capture of eight German soldiers, badly needed for identification purposes. His first patrol on the night of 2/3 January captured a five man enemy ambush patrol intact. The capture was made about 1 Kilometer northeast of Monte Belmonte and the prisoners were from the 1st and 2d Companies of the 1060th Infantry Regiment, 362d Division. Lt. Decker's prompt aggressive action seized these Germans without a fire fight. His second patrol with a specially organized battle group of twenty-four men advanced on Casa Nuova, some two Kilometers north of Livergnano and captured four Germans (members of a machine gun squad}, one of whom was killed by German fire in the return to our lines. This patrol in addition to having the mission of capturing prisoners, placed explosive charges in the house at Casa Nuova (a total of over thirty pounds of TNT) and destroyed the building which the Germans had been using as a strongpoint. There were three Germans trying to get out of the house at the time the explosion occurred. White phosphorous grenades were thrown in a number of nearby dugouts and more casualties inflicted upon the enemy. One German machine gun position which tried to discourage Lt. Decker's operation resulted in the death of the machine gunner and his assistant. The Stars and Stripes gave the following account of the action at casa Nuova:
"On the Highway itself, (i.e., Highway 65), south of Bologna, a volunteer combat patrol of the 351st Infantry Regiment raided an enemy outpost, killed a large number of Germans and brought back three prisoners.
The objective was first isolated by a curtain of artillery fire and the patrol closed in under the rolling barrage. After rushing the objective despite deep snow and the fire from two Kraut machine guns covering the approaches to the outpost, members of the patrol tossed at least thirty hand grenades through the doors and windows of a house being used as a strongpoint. One machine gun was knocked out and the crew of the second was overpowered and captured. Small arms fire continued from bunkers beneath another house and Lt. Ralph Decker of Junction City, Kansas, leader of the patrol, placed a large demolition charge in the house and a few seconds later blew up the building, Krauts, bunkers and all."
Lt. Linnsey L. Wheeler of Company A took a patrol to the church at San Ansano, approximately 2 Kilometers northwest of Livergnano on 31 January. Here he killed two Germans with his tommy gun and another member of the patrol killed a third German who tried to interfere. A fourth German, convinced that Lt. Wheeler and his patrol meant business, yelled "Hello, Kamerad" and was taken prisoner.
On the afternoon of 28 January 1945, Brigadier General Paul W. Kendall, Division Commander, presented nineteen Bronze Star awards, one cluster to the Bronze Star, and three Silver Star awards, one of which was posthumously, to members of Lt. Decker's patrol group. The formation of this special volunteer patrol group has proved to be a valuable undertaking.
During the month many distinguished callers visited the regiment. The Divisional Commander, Brigadier General Paul W. Kendall was a frequent caller. Generals Sherman and Lewis, respectively Assistant Divisional Commander, and Division Artillery Commander, made several visits. Major General Geoffrey Keyes, Commanding General II Corps visited Colonel Champeny on the 29th of January. Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Fifth Army Commander stopped by on 31 January 1945. Thus ends the history for January 1945.
ARTHUR S. CHAMPENY
Colonel, 351st Infantry,