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Chapter 20: 37 Miles in 13 Hours

(VERONA, pp. 61-65)

Before daylight on 25 April 1945 the Division Commander radioed orders for the regiment to proceed to VERONA with all possible speed, although no vehicles or heavy equipment had been carried across the river as yet. Nevertheless, the Second Battalion moved out at 0830 hours on what proved to be one of the most amazing actions of the entire Italian Campaign. With the First Platoon of Company E leading the pursuit, the Second Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Ayres, struck swiftly across the flat, well-cultivated terrain. The advance party knocked out an enemy machine gun in the vicinity of TARTAR CREEK early in the morning, and by noon had captured a large number of Germans in NOGARA, twelve miles further op the road. Joined by several tank-destroyers from the 805 Tank Destroyer Battalion and an armored car, the riflemen of the First Platoon mounted the armored vehicles and drove forward.

Hardly a kilometer north of NOGARA a, sudden volley of German 57 millimeter anti-tank gun fire knocked out the armored Car and one of the tank-destroyers, wounding the occupants. Shortly thereafter heavy machine gun fire from several positions to the right and left of the road forced the troops to dismount and take cover in a roadside ditch. Colonel Ayres immediately sent the riflemen around the left flank in an encircling attack, while he went ahead of the tank-destroyers on foot to indicate targets for them. In twenty minutes of aggressive fighting Colonel Ayres won a Distinguished Service Cross for his extraordinary heroism in action. The Company Commander of Company E, Captain Stanley Van Teeslaar, was wounded in launching a flanking attack, and Lieutenant John Ebel took command of the company. The stalwart men of the First Platoon overran several machine guns in an all-out attack, killing eight Germans and capturing fifteen more. This highly successful action at NOGARA opened the way to VERONA and the task force rapidly pushed northward.

Again at PELEGRlNO, ISOLA DI SCALA, and at BUTTAPIETRA the men of Company E dismounted from their armored vehicles to overwhelm strong road blocks barring the way to VERONA. In the little town of BUTTAPIETRA Lieutenant Ebel went ahead of this platoon on reconnaissance, dropped a German sentry unconscious with a butt-stroke from his carbine, and captured twelve enemy soldiers manning two 88 millimeter guns to win a Distinguished Service Cross for his magnificent fighting ability. When the First Platoon captured a German position at CA DAVID, they broke the last resistance south of VERONA, and by 2100 hours the leading elements of the 351st had entered the city.

Within VERONA the men of the Second Battalion had a field day shooting up the badly disorganized German groups who were trying to escape northward into the mountains.

Kraut prisoners shuffle past dead comrades shortly after heavy fighting at this road junction in Verona.

At one road block near the southern outskirts of the town, dead and dying Germans literally covered the street as truck-load after truck-load of enemy personnel were blasted at close range by our tank-destroyer and infantry weapons. Brave men of Company F fought savage battles in the darkened streets, while equally courageous medics evacuated the wounded under fire. In a single day of continuous fighting the Second Battalion had covered thirty-seven miles in less than thirteen hours, and had for practical purposes severed the German armies in Italy. Over five hundred prisoners had been taken by the leading platoon alone, while the First and Third Battalions, protecting the flanks and rear, accounted for hundreds more. It had been one of the most successful combat days in Fifth Army history, and a record was established of which every man in the 351st may well be proud.

When he arrived in VERONA on the morning of 26 April, Colonel Darby, Assistant Division Commander of the 10th Mountain Division paid a remarkable compliment to Colonel Miller and the fighting men of the 351st Infantry, stating, "You seem to have had interesting brawl during the night. I heartily approve of the results." Elements of the 10th Mountain Division were at this time entering the city from the west to relieve the 351st.

After hardly getting a glimpse of the sights and signorinas in VERONA, the hard-driving troops of the Spearhead Regiment executed a "column right" and headed do east toward another SAN GIOVANNI and ZEVIO, along the south bank of the ADIGE RIVER. About noon on 26 April the Rangers entered SAN GIOVANNI and to the amazement of all were met by a representative of the commander of a Czechoslovakian Regiment, who promptly surrendered his entire unit to the 351st Infantry. Pushing rapidly on toward ZEVIO the regimental column encountered a strong road block made of steel rails and covered by rifle and machine gun fire. Attempts to ram the road block with tanks of the 752 Tank Battalion were unsuccessful, and increasing small arms fire from the flanks forced the riflemen to dismount from the vehicles and take cover in ditches. While a brisk fire fight ensued at the road block, the main body of the column by-passed the resistance around the left flank and drove into ZEVIO. The bag of prisoners captured during this action was so unbelievably large that the guarding and evacuation of them threatened to hamper the movement of the regiment. One complete German field hospital was captured in ZEVIO, along with all its patients, transportation, and nurses. In recognition of the outstanding accomplishments of the 351st on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of April, the Commanding General of II Corps sent the following message to General Kendall:

"Congratulations to you and the other Blue Devils for a magnificent race won against great odds. Please convey my congratulations to Colonel Miller and the 351st and their team mates from the 752nd (Tank Battalion) and 806th (Tank Destroyer Battalion)."

Third Battalion GI's crossing the Adige river by assault boat.

At ZEVIO the 351st crossed the ADIGE RIVER on the night of 26 April, using the debris of a demolished bridge. The swiftness of the current presented unusual problems to the transportation and supply echelons, but by using commandeered Italian skiffs most of our vehicles and equipment was across before priority on the bridge at VERONA was obtained. The regiment moved a few miles east of its bridgehead and went into temporary bivouac along Highway 11 for twenty-four hours of much needed and well deserved rest. It was during this short rest period that the commander of a Georgian Infantry Battalion sent word through an Italian that he desired to surrender his whole force, and Colonel Hobson took a three-jeep convoy through the enemy lines to negotiate the capitulation. Camped at the foothills of the mountains, many an ammo bearer squinted up at the snowy peaks of the Alps and wondered if he'd have to climb these too.


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


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