Chapter 3: Blood, Guts and a Reputation

Updated: Sep 6

Santa Maria Infante, (pp. 11-17)


The terrain over which the 351st Infantry Regiment was destined to fight one of the most savage and decisive battles in the drive on Rome is gnarled and furrowed by a series of ridge lines and valleys which form the foothills of the imposing AURUNCI mountain range. The only road in the regimental sector followed a ridge line from the vicinity of MINTURNO to SANTA MARIA INFANTE, kingpin in the Gustav Line.


The German forces manning this terrain were entrenched in concrete pillboxes, caves, and emplacements blasted into solid rock. They had thickly sown minefields on every approach to their positions, and their artillery and interlocking machine gun fire made a killing zone of the ground before their main line of resistance. Along the "S" shaped ridge the Germans concentrated the 94th Fusilier Reconnaissance Battalion (four to five hundred strong) and the 26th Grenadier Regiment, approximately four hundred men. Entrenched in their powerful fortifications that had already withstood several savage assaults, the Germans waited confidently for the attack of the 351st Infantry.


At 2300 hours, 11 May 1944, from Cassino to the sea, every gun opened fire in one of the greatest artillery barrages in history and continued with undiminished fury for one hour. Six full battalions of field artillery: the familiar 913th under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Franklin P. Miller, the 339th, 631st, and the 5th Armored Group (three battalions strong) directly support the assault of the 351st Infantry Regiment. Shells screamed across no-man's land -- streams of tracers floated lazily in the air -- flares of all colors burst into the sky, illuminating the field of battle like a magnificent display of fireworks. In the rear, repeated flashes of artillery stabbed through the smoke and darkness. The sounds of battle intermingled, roared down the valley to die away in the distance, bringing word to those at ANZIO that the drive for ROME had begun.


12 May 1944 Companies E and F of the Second Battalion, led the initial attack along the main north-south ridge line. First resistance in the form of heavy machine gun fire from HILL 130 struck Company F on the left side of the ridge, but the doughboys quickly overcame the enemy and carried forward to the terrain feature known as the " tits ". Riflemen of Company E kept pace on the right, and both companies came abreast of the " tits ". On learning that the Commander of Company E had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Kendall moved forward and assumed command of the company to keep the attack from stalling. He immediately organized a two platoon attack and led a bayonet assault on two elaborate machine gun positions, permitting the company to advance. Once on the forward slope of the next terrain feature, the "spur", the attack was again stopped by machine gun fire from the front and both flanks, while murderous artillery fire steadily increased the casualty list. Colonel Kendall led a squad of riflemen from the second platoon in a rush on the right machine gun, which was in a stone house. Calling to his men to follow him, Colonel Kendall rushed the house, killing several of the enemy; and silencing the gun with two hand grenades--but as he crouched to look around the corner of the building he was killed instantly by another machine gun not seventy-five yards away. Thus died one of the finest officers of the United States Army.


Inspired by Colonel Kendall's gallantry, Company E captured the "spur" and held it for several hours until reinforcements arrived, then pushed into the outskirts of SANTA MARIA INFANTE. Here a strong German counter attack almost overwhelmed the company and they were forced to fall back to the "spur".


While Company E. hurled itself against the Germans to the right of the ridge, Company F forged ahead on the left and reached a position near TAME, where crossfire from pillboxes pinned the company to the ground. Colonel Champeny ordered the Third Battalion, Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charles P. Furr, to move forward and pass through the Second Battalion to keep the attack moving and to relieve the pressure on Company F, now isolated and surrounded. Daybreak found the Third Battalion pushing forward against very stubborn resistance. In the first twenty-four hours of fighting the Germans clearly demonstrated that they intended to hold their positions at all costs, and enemy soldiers frequently refused to surrender even when their position became hopeless. It was up to the 351st riflemen to close in and kill them in their dugouts.


13 May 1944 From sunrise until sunset the Second and Third Battalions fought savagely to gain and hold scant yards of this precious terrain. Beleaguered Company F beat off repeated attacks from all directions while brave men died trying to reach them. Although badly wounded, Lieutenant Theodore W. Noon, commanding Company G, refused to be evacuated and continued to fight with his company throughout the day. Captain Heitman, Second Battalion Adjutant, took command of Company E and with two gallant men charged a machine gun to their front and killed the entire crew with rifle and carbine fire. It was during this action that Frederick Faust, Harpers Magazine War Correspondent and better known under the pen name of "Max Brand" was killed by a shell fragment. Mr. Faust had asked permission to accompany an assault platoon in the first attack, stating in his own words, "The first attack is the cream and I wish to be a part of it. "


All day long the German shelling plastered the bloody ridgeline with barrage after barrage of heavy caliber fire, and many a GI crouched among the rocks remarked about the reports of a shortage of ammunition in the German Army with typical front-line humor. Because the 85th Division on the left of the regiment had not kept pace with the 351st Infantry, heavy casualties resulted from flanking fire from that direction. The Third Battalion beat its way to the last reported position of Company F, to find only two survivors of that ordeal. Colonel Champeny ordered a new Company F to be formed under Captain Charles J. Radosevich, Regimental Personnel Officer and the 351st prepared to renew the attack.


14 May 1944 Seriously hampered by the 85th Division's failure to capture the ridge in their zone, Colonel Champeny ordered the First Battalion to move out of the regimental zone and do the job. With typical 351st spirit the men of Company B stormed HILL 131 and the ridge line to the right of it, silencing the murderous flanking fire that had cost the other battalions so dearly. In the early hours before daybreak the First Battalion distinguished itself by eliminating all resistance from the flanking positions, although they, too, paid a high price in blood.


The final crushing attack was launched at 0800 hours, with the Second and Third Battalions attacking abreast directly toward SANTA MARIA INFANTE and TAME. Grim riflemen who had been fighting for forty-eight hours without pause gripped their weapons and came out of their foxholes to close with the hated enemy. This time they would not be stopped. After smashing their way though the streets of the two towns, those men of the mist drove the stunned Germans up the AUSONIA-SPIGNO road and into the mountains beyond. Although they had paid a staggering price, losing many veteran soldiers and leaders, they had blasted the first gap in the vaunted GUSTAV LINE and bad opened the road to ROME. This epic struggle of the 351st Infantry was characterized by gallant, heroic action of companies, platoons, squads, and individual soldiers.


Besides breaching the GUSTAV LINE, the 351stInfantry had other grounds for pride in its accomplishment. For the first time most of its men were tested in battle and they were not found wanting. They lived intimately with death, pinned down in shell-holes, in ditches, even out in the open ground for whole days at a time while shells screamed overhead and machine gun bullets kicked up the dirt only a few feet away. Members of the first American all Selective Service Division to go into combat had distinguished

themselves on the most difficult of all proving grounds -- the battlefield.


I & R men look for snipers in Santa Maria.

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