A Brief Overview of the 351st Infantry Regiment in Italy

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18 Oct 1944 - "A Group of Italian Refugees talking to two members of the 88th Division. These refugees were told by the Germans to leave and go toward the American Lines. Photo by MC Whirter; 3131 Signal Service Co." -- From the National Archives, SC 195818.

The 351st Infantry Regiment shipped from Hampton Roads, VA to Algeria arriving in early December 1943. While based in Algeria they prepared to enter the Italian front lines by conducting extensive training exercises. Early in February 1944 the Regiment left Algeria and crossed the Mediterranean to arrive at Naples. There they joined II Corps of 5th Army and began preparations to reinforce the struggling beachhead at Anzio. Shortly before embarking onto transport ships plans were changed. The 351st instead was directed to support the ongoing battle formed by the stronghold at Monte Cassino. The first unit to enter the line was the 2nd Battalion, 351st Regiment as an attachment to the 3rd Algerian Division, French Expeditionary Corps. The battalion occupied a stretch of mountainous territory for several days, sandwiched between the 3rd Algerian Division on the right and the 7th British Brigade on the left. They took heavy casualties from artillery fire and engaged in firefights with German patrols. In early March, the 2nd Battalion left the line and rejoined the Regiment. The 351st moved and attacked the west flank of the Gustav line. They broke through at Santa Maria Infante after taking heavy casualties.

During the remainder of March, and throughout April and May, the 351st engaged in nearly continuous action with the enemy, pushing northward against heavy opposition. At 15:30, 4 June 1944, the 1st Battalion entered the outskirts of Rome. They were noted as the “first infantry in force” of the Allied army to enter the city. Encountering scattered resistance, they moved into a blocking position on the north side, which they held through June 9th. On the 10th, the Regiment moved back from the line to rest and take on replacements, having been engaged in over 90 days of continuous combat.

During the first week of July, the Regiment returned to the front line assaulting and capturing the city of Volterra. After several days of fighting a deeply entrenched enemy, they captured the next city Lajatico, for which the 3rd Battalion would later receive a Unit Citation. They engaged in several more battles, took heavy casualties, and brought on more replacements. The Regiment ended the month in divisional reserve. At this point, it was determined that there were so many replacements in the 351st that an extended training period was warranted. August and much of September 1944 found the unit in bivouac areas south of Florence, where they integrated replacements and studied mountain warfare tactics.

On September 23rd the Regiment moved back into the line to attack Maraduccio. Upon the capture of the city, they continued to Castel del Rio, where they engaged in a pitched battle. Upon the capture of Castel del Rio, they assaulted and captured Mt. Cappello for which the 2nd Battalion would later receive a Unit Citation. At the end of September, the Regiment left the line to take on replacements. By early October they renewed their attack northward and captured Gesso and Vedriano. At the end of October, the 351st left the line for Montecatini Terme to rest and refit. In September and October alone they had experienced over fifty percent casualties (killed, wounded, captured).

The 351st spent one week in Montecatini integrating replacements to rebuild companies and battalions back to original strength. On November 8th they moved into the Idice valley where the Allied attack had halted and assumed an “active defense." Throughout the winter, the Regiment moved to different locations along the line where they conducted extensive patrolling, resisted attacks from reinforced enemy patrols, and endured nearly non-stop enemy shelling. At the beginning of March 1945, they left the line for the Pisa area to prepare for a Spring offensive.

On April 11th, the Regiment moved from Pisa to a staging area at Pietramala north of Florence and continued preparations to assault through the mountains to the Po Valley. On April 18th they moved to Vergato and assembled for an attack on Lama. Accompanying the 6th South African Armored Division, they captured the town on April 18th. They advanced from there to capture a series of towns along Highway 64 and they then turned west into the high mountains where they captured Lagune. They moved north through rugged terrain toward Mt. Capra to attempt a breakthrough of that defensive position. Mt. Capra was tenaciously defended, but the regiment made enough movement against it to allow 2nd and 3rd Battalions to bypass and continue attacking toward the Po Valley. 1st battalion battled for the mountain top while 2nd and 3rd battalions broke through resistance north of Mt. Capra and entered the Po Valley on April 21st at Riale, a western suburb of Bologna.

Upon clearing Mt. Capra, 1st Battalion rejoined the other two battalions and continued the assault into the Po Valley overcoming scattered, though occasionally stiff, resistance. The regiment captured several towns along the way to the Po River and prepared to assault the largest natural defensive position in the valley. On the morning of April 24th, the Ranger Platoon (formed earlier in the year within the 351st) launched a daylight attack across the river via a damaged railroad bridge securing a small bridgehead. The 2nd Battalion then assaulted across in captured rubber boats. The remainder of the Regiment followed by crossing in DUKWs and continued the attack toward Verona. By April 25th the Regimented had formed blocking positions at road junctions within the city, cutting off retreating enemy units and holding reinforcements at bay who were attempting to move the city.

The Regiment exited Verona by heading east and forced a crossing of the Adige River at Zevio during the night of April 26th. They advanced through Vicenza toward Sandrigo. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions attacked and captured Sandrigo and Marostica, while the 1st Battalion moved further north to Bassano del Grappa and occupied positions inside the city at the Brenta river. After repelling counterattacks and fighting through the streets along the west side of the Brenta, elements of the regiment forced a crossing of the river on April 29th. From Bassano del Grappa the regiment advanced northward against scattered resistance. By the early hours of May 2nd, they occupied positions in Borgo where they were assigned the lead role in a renewed attack toward Trento. Shortly after 10 p.m. orders were received to hold in place. The 351st received the surrender of the 1st Parachute Corps, signaling the capitulation of the Italian front. The Regiment moved to positions surrounding Lago di Caldonazzo and over the next several weeks operated throughout Northern Italy gathering prisoners, securing captured munitions, and guarding installations.

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