Chapter 18: The Dam Breaks

Updated: Jul 18

(San Giovanni - Panaro, pp. 52-54)


At 0600 hours, 21 April, the First and Second Battalions jumped off from RIALE to cut Highway 9 eight kilometers west of BOLOGNA. By noon the attacking troops encountered stiffening resistance from enemy rearguards manning extensive field fortifications prepared during the winter; but the German forces were grouped in strongpoints and were susceptible to encirclement. The Third Battalion, following the attack, mopped up many by-passed pockets of resistance during the day and added to the growing bag of prisoners. About 3000 yards south of SAN GIOVANNI there is a canal along which all bridges had been demolished. The Germans had organized a strong delaying line along this canal, manned by approximately seven hundred men and nine tanks, and they succeeded in baiting the initial attempts of the Third Battalion to cross the canal. Swinging wide around the left flank of this resistance, the First Battalion crossed the canal and drove for the outskirts of SAN GIOVANNI, where several hours of bitter fighting in the flat lowlands took place. Lieutenant Colonel Hobson led a column of tanks forward to cross the canal under heavy fire, and by nightfall he had entered SAN GIOVANNI to support the First Battalion in the street fighting. Riflemen of the First Battalion will remember their anger when the enemy used the "white flag" trick and opened fire on the advancing troops from buildings decorated with pillowcases and bedsheets. Colonel Hobson organized a tack force to clear one of the main streets in SAN GIOVANNI, while Lieutenant Colonel Howard, commanding the First Battalion, led his men along the other street. Digging the enemy out of buildings with hand grenades and tank fire, the men of the First Battalion stormed through SAN GIOVANNI by midnight, killing sixty-seven German soldiers and destroying two, enemy tanks. Once again the doughboys of the 351st had opened the way to a rapid advance.


With the First Battalion on the left and the Third Battalion on the right, the regiment drove forward on the morning of 22 April in the direction of CREVALCORE. About three thousand yards from its line of departure the Third Battalion encountered heavy resistance and became involved in an extensive firefight, while units on the left pushed rapidly forward without opposition. To continue the advance rapidly was imperative. Colonel Miller ordered the First Battalion to cross to the east into the Third Battalion's zone, placing it in rear of the Germans, which Third Battalion proceeded to mop up. Simultaneously be moved the Second Battalion up on the left of the First Battalion, and Major Ayres led them into CREVALCORE unopposed.


During the afternoon the First Battalion came under the fire of two enemy tanks, two self-propelled guns, and a large number of infantry weapons in the town of CASELLE, just sooth of the PANARO RIVER. Available to the Battalion Commander was Company A and a single Sherman tank. Taking personal command, Colonel Howard directed devastating tank and artillery fire which destroyed all four German armored vehicles, then led the brilliant attack which overwhelmed the enemy. For this action, Colonel Howard won the Silver Star. Among the forty- seven Germans killed in this action was the Division Artillery Commander of the 305th Division, and a regimental commander and two battalion commanders were among the eighty-nine prisoners captured.


The 351st Ranger Platoon scored remarkable success on the left flank of the regiment by capturing a German signal battalion intact, taking one hundred thirty-seven prisoners of war and killing eleven during a vicious fire fight. Mounted in captured tracks, the plucky Rangers drove right through the main street of a German-held village, firing automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades at the surprised and disorganized enemy. During this afternoon of fighting the unengaged elements of the First and Second Battalions reconnoitered the PANARO RIVER for crossing sites, but heavy machine gun and mortar fire forced the men to take cover behind the south levee. The men of the 351st had fought hard all day, but they could have no opportunity to relax, for the enemy was fighting for time.


At 1530 hours General Kendall, the Division Commander, joined Colonel Miller at the forward OP and issued positive orders for the PANARO RIVER to be crossed without delay before darkness. German self-propelled fire destroyed a tank and an armored car as they reached the top of the south levee, and German sniper and machine gun fire killed several men who exposed themselves. In view of the Division Commander's stringent orders for immediate attack, Colonel Miller ordered the First Battalion, less the units engaged in the fighting at CASELLE, to cross the river by swimming, while the Second Battalion foot troops could use the rubble of a demolished bridge. A very effective and beautifully coordinated curtain of artillery fire laid down by the 913th Field Artillery supported the assault companies as they jumped-off at 1900 hours. Within a short time both battalions were firmly across the river, establishing a bridgehead three kilometers deep. The Second Battalion cleared the town of CAMPOSANTO and captured a bridge in good condition, over which all combat vehicles were quickly brought forward. The 22nd of April had been a great day for the fighting men of the 351st Infantry, for they had overrun three strongly defended towns, crossed two water barriers, and had taken in excess of one thousand five hundred prisoners within twenty-four hours. The regiment had smashed every attempt by the Germans to organize a defense line and gain time to ferry their vehicles and equipment across the Po River.


Relieved by the 350th Infantry early on the morning of the 23rd, the regiment marched through scenes of amazing confusion and destruction. Hundreds of vehicles littered the roadsides and thousands of German artillery horses wandered about the countryside, while long columns of prisoners shuffled to the rear. Caught on the south bank of the PO RIVER with all bridges destroyed and under the pressure of relentless ground and air attack, the Germans either swam the river or surrendered. Although in reserve on this day, the 351st captured more than two thousand prisoners by-passed by the leading elements. Many a veteran of mountain fighting at Cassino and Minturno took exceptional pleasure in witnessing this utter rout of the Wehrmacht, for this was the payoff for many months of bitter struggle. During the night the regiment moved into a gap between the two attacking regiments and occupied the town of REVERE, on the banks of the PO.

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