Chapter 10: Gallantry In The Apennines

Updated: Jul 3

(CASTEL DEL RIO, p. 35-37)


As three divisions of II Corps attacked along Highway 65 directly toward BOLOGNA, the 88th Division hurled itself in a northeasterly direction toward IMOLA and the PO Valley. Here was the main effort -- the cream of the Fifth Army held in reserve for the knockout punch. From FIRENZCOLA to IMOLA a hard-surfaced road followed the SANTERNO RIVER along a gorge-like valley between some of the highest and most rugged peaks in the North Appenines. Mount FRENA, Mount PRATOLUNGO, Mount BATTAGLIA, Mount CAPELLO, and Mount MAGNOLIA barred the way to the first town of appreciable size, CASTEL DEL RIO. The mountains through which the regiment attacked are abruptly rising and precipitous, crossed only by a few tortuous mule trails. In many places the

canyons are vertically walled and insurmountable. Circuitous routes afford the only means of advance, and for this reason the terrain was heavily in favor of the Germans. A few machine guns sited to cover the narrow approaches and systematic artillery shelling could make each terrain feature the scene of a costly, bitter struggle. From CASTEL DEL BIO a secondary road cuts left between Mount PRATOLUNGO and Mount MAGNOLIA to the village of SASSOLEONE, thence down the SAN CLEMENTE VALLEY to the flatlands of the PO. Mount CODRONCO, high ground near GESSO, and Mount GRANDE command this secondary road. This terrain is more cultivated and less rugged than the rocky heights south of Castel Del Rio, but at the same time it offered less protection for the advancing doughboy. In this mountainous setting the 351st Infantry was destined to fight longer, harder, and with heavier casualties than at any previous time. The regiment marched to CAMAGGIORE on the night of 22 September and awaited orders.


Shortly after noon on 23 September 1944 Colonel Champeny issued his attack order to the Battalion Commanders at the forward Command Post in CAMAGGIORE. At 1800 hours the Third Battalion was to attack along high ground to the left of the road, the Second Battalion to the right of the road, while one company of the First Battalion was to clear the highway, itself. Hardly bad the order been issued when German artillery fire struck the whole area, killing one officer and destroying several trucks and mules. Once again the 351st Infantry was reminded of the price of victory.


By twilight both battalions had made excellent progress. The Third Battalion had advanced almost two thousand yards along a cliff-side trail with only harassing artillery fire to hinder its progress, while the Second Battalion covered fifteen hundred yards before it encountered enemy machine gun fire which was overcome after a sharp encounter. By midnight both battalions had advanced an additional thousand yards, while Company C kept abreast along the road against stiff resistance. Daybreak found the Third Battalion engaged in a widespread firefight with Germans manning a ridgeline running from Mount PRATOLUNGO across the route of advance. To the right of the highway the Second Battalion battered against stiffening resistance while casualties steadily mounted. Along the highway, Company C suffered heavy losses from mortar and artillery fire while gallant men crawled forward to destroy machine guns. The 351st had definitely encountered fanatical resistance.


The night of 24-25 September 1944 will long be remembered by the fighting men of the 351st Infantry by the savage windstorm that lashed at them as they huddled behind rocks for protection from the sixty mile an hour gale. In the howling, driving wind it was impossible to hear the shells scream in, and courageous mule skinners took their losses and brought up food and ammunition. Company A passed through Company C to storm and capture the town of MORADUCCIO on the highway, while the Second Battalion and Third Battalion jumped oft at 0300 hours, guiding on white phosphorous shell bursts marking terrain features. The Second Battalion drove ahead almost a mile during the day against delaying action resistance; but such was not the case with the Third Battalion.


With Company K leading, followed by Companies M and I, Lieutenant Colonel Charles P. Furr led his battalion along the side of a ridge which joined the German-held ridge line at right angles, roughly shaped like a letter "T". The enemy allowed the screening platoon to pass through their positions and then opened simultaneous surprise fire on the remainder of Company K with from six to eight machine guns at point-blank range, inflicting terrific casualties on the company. Colonel Furr, who was leading the column behind the screening force, immediately plunged into the close-quarters fighting, killing several Germans with his pistol. While thus gallantly leading his men, Colonel Furr lost his life. From Private Rickenbacker of Company K, the following information was obtained: "Colonel Furr was leading. I was the third man in the column and we were moving down a small nose. In front of us a curved ridge extended around both sides of the nose we were on: Colonel Furr turned left, while a platoon of K Company continued straight down the nose. I thought the Colonel must want to see if there were anyone on the left flank. A German stuck his head up and threw a grenade at the Colonel. It hit the right side of his helmet and exploded at the same time-he was a great guy." And in this manner the 351st Infantry lost one of the most promising and fearless young commanders in the Army of the United States. Four times wounded at the head of his fighting battalion, Colonel Furr was admired and respected by every officer and man in his command.


After this devastating blow, the Third Battalion spent the remainder of the day fighting off repeated German counterattacks. The 349th Infantry passed through the battalion to storm and capture PRATOLONGO, while the Second and Third Battalions converged on CASTEL DEL RIO. Under Lieutenant Colonel Tilman E. Boyd the Second Battalion cleared the high ground overlooking the town, while platoons from Companies I and K cleared the streets by 0900 hours 26 September. Major General Geoffrey Keyes, Commanding General of II Corps, and Brigadier General Kendall of the 88th both sent congratulations to the 351st Infantry for its capture of CASTEL DEL RIO, but many a man had paid with his life for this strategic town. Colonel Champeny moved his headquarters into the ancient stone Castle while fighting still raged within a few hundred yards and he ordered the relentless drive to continue without delay.

From: 351st Infantry Regimental Information and Education Office (1945). History of the 351st Regiment, World War II.