Chapter 13: Teamwork Turned the Tide

(GESSO, pp. 43-44)


Against stiffening resistance by fresh German regiments rushed from the Po Valley, the First Battalion drove for GESSO. Courageous riflemen fought their way into the outskirts of the town on 10 October in a night attack; but were forced to fall back in the face of a savage counterattack in great strength. The Second Battalion, attacking along high ground on the right flank, scored limited gains and suffered very heavy casualties in

fighting reminiscent of CAPELLO. Major Edwin H. Marks took command of the Second Battalion when Colonel Boyd was seriously wounded, and Colonel Champeny brought up tanks to high ground overlooking GESSO and ordered the First and Third Battalions to storm the town.


During the night both the First and Third Battalions made repeated desperate attacks on the town, and both units were halted by intense mortar and machine gun fire, in addition to suffering heavy casualties in schu minefields. British troops on the right of the 351st had not kept pace with the regiment and heavy fire was being received from that flank. Before daylight both battalions polled back to defilade Jest they be caught in open ground directly in front of the German positions. Overwhelming fire power

and all-out infantry assault would be necessary to break the bitter resistance, for the enemy had no intention of withdrawing from his powerful positions.


All morning Colonel Champeny directed the close-in fire of tanks and tank-destroyers into the buildings of GESSO while the town was repeatedly saturated with heavy concentrations of artillery. As the men of the First and Third Battalions crept forward during the afternoon under the protection of this murderous fire, they were able to approach close to the outskirts of the town. In breaking into and clearing GESSO, the men of Companies I and K performed acts of heroism and gallantry unsurpassed in the history of the 351st Infantry. Captain William B. Sandlin won a Distinguished

Service Cross by storming a German machiμe gun single-handedly, then leading his battered company forward into brutal hand-to-hand fighting. Lieutenant Leslie P. Geelen, then Sergeant, killed a German flame-thrower operator to win a Silver Star, while Private Walter C. Ellsworth went above the call of duty by killing eleven Germans with his rifle after he, himself, was seriously wounded. He also was awarded a DSC by the Theater Commander for his heroism. Faced by the overwhelming power of tank-destroyer fire and the savage assault of the Third Battalion, the German garrison made frantic efforts to flee; but the assault of our troops was so rapid and so ferocious that scores of enemy soldiers were killed or captured in trying to escape.


Stung by the loss of GESSO, the enemy pulled back to other hills and heavily shelled our positions until the regiment was relieved five days later. The 351st lost an excellent fighting Battalion Commander when Lieutenant Colonel Herman W. Ohme of the Third Battalion was killed by shell fire, and heavy casualties were suffered when the Third Battalion Aid Station was destroyed. The First Battalion moved to aid the 349th Infantry in occupying Mount DELLA TOMBE, while the 78th British Division relieved the bulk of the regiment at GESSO on 16 October. With twenty-three days of almost continuous assault behind them, the weary GI's of the 351st moved to VILLANUOVA for a few days of well-earned rest. Line companies of the regiment had suffered hundreds of casualties in men and officers, and some units were composed almost entirely of replacements rushed to Italy from America and England but a few days before they arrived at the front. Great credit is due these new men, for they entered combat during the most savage fighting yet experienced -- and they fought like veterans to to carry the banner of the 351st Infantry to greater glory.

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