Chapter 19: Storming the Po

(OSTIGLIA, pp 56 - 60)


From observation points near the water's edge in REVERE a partially demolished railroad bridge was clearly visible. To the left of the bridge on the north bank, the buildings of OSTIGLIA offered concealment and protection for German snipers and machine gunners, while to the right of the bridge the country was low and flat, dotted by an occasional farmhouse. A detailed personal reconnaissance by the Regimental Commander and his S-2 convinced them that determined men could cross the river on the wreckage of the bridge and secure a small bridgehead to facilitate the passage of larger forces. Throughout the morning the troops moved into position while plans were completed for an afternoon crossing. Barrages for light artillery and chemical mortars were registered, anti-tank guns were manhandled into position on the south levee, and the men of D, H, and M Companies placed their machine guns and mortars into supporting positions. German machine gunners and snipers on the north bank fired at anyone moving on the south bank throughout the morning, and three 20 millimeter anti-aircraft cannon emplaced to protect the bridge harassed our troops with explosive shells. But in spite of the enemy fire, preparations for the crossing were complete by noon.

Looking west toward the railroad bridge at Ostiglia.

To an eyewitness, the actual crossing was not only spectacular, but also gave the impression of having been rehearsed. At 1200 hours Captain Edmonson, the Regimental S-2, followed by Lieutenant Decker, Lieutenant MacDonald, and thirteen Ranger volunteers, dashed from the buildings of REVERE to the bridge and began to make their way across it. As they reached the broken center span they drew heavy machine gun and flak fire, wounding three of their small force. Captain Edmonson courageously lowered himself into the water and fastened a rope through the wreckage of the center span to provide a hand-hold for those to follow him.

Company G Riflemen waiting for the signal to cross the Po.
H minus two finds the men of H Company waiting to cross the Po.

Although he was wounded in the hip by a fragment of an explosive projectile, he continued to lead the Rangers to the north bank. Supporting weapons on the south bank fired at all buildings and positions on the north bank, while intense artillery fire raised havoc with the enemy in OSTIGLIA. Once on the far side of the river, Privates Tavenner and Stenquist established a base of fire with their BAR, picking off ten Germans in two hours of remarkable shooting. Lieutenant Decker and two men rushed a machine gun on the left flank of the levee, killed the gunners, and went on to capture a three story house which commanded observation of the immediate area. From the top floor of this house Lieutenant Decker and his men made a network of trenches and emplacements untenable for the enemy with deadly rifle shooting then rushed a second house and three bunkers to kill five more Germans and capture an additional twenty. The Rangers then charged three enemy flak guns and killed several more Krauts in their foxholes. Their highly successful action secured the initial bridgehead and greatly facilitated the crossing of Company G in mid-afternoon.

GI's of Company F double-timing for cover after crossing the Po River

With riflemen of Company F manning the engineer assault boats in the absence of engineer personnel, the remainder of the Second Battalion crossed eight hundred yards downstream. Intermittent artillery and mortar fire fell near the boats as they paddled across the river, but good fortune and excellent supporting fire got our forces across without losses. By 1600 hours the entire Second Battalion was across the PO and a substantial bridgehead was secured. Shortly thereafter engineer equipment and DUKW's arrived, enabling supplies to be brought across the river. During the night the other battalions crossed the river and by morning preparations were complete to resume the offensive. Once again the 351st had cracked a defense line which had been highly touted as impregnable. Six companies from the famous 1st Parachute Division had been unable to stop the driving assault of the Spearhead Regiment.


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