Korean War: U. N. Front Line Moves South (12A)

Yongdok and the East Coastal Corridor: While the battles of the Kum River and Taejon were being fought on the main axis south from Seoul, many miles eastward, the enemy 5th Division pressed forward against Yongdok, a key point where a lateral road came in from the mountains to meet the coastal road. The ROK 3rd Division had orders to hold Yongdok. It was certain that heavy battles would be fought there.  

On 13 July Colonel Emmerich and the KMAG detachment with the ROK 3rd Division forwarded to Eighth Army a demolition plan for use on the coastal road and bridges. Major Clyde Britton, one of the KMAG officers, was to be responsible for giving authority to blow any of the bridges. The long bridge at Yongdok was recognized as the most important feature on the coastal road, and it was to be held intact unless enemy armor was actually crossing it.  

At this time interrogation of an enemy prisoner disclosed that the North Koreans had a plan to blow a bridge near An’gang-ni, on the lateral corridor from Taegu to Pohang-dong and to blow both ends of the Ch’ongdo railroad tunnel between Pusan and Taegu. Destruction of the tunnel would constitute a serious blow to the logistical support for the front-line troops. Two American officers with two platoons of ROK troops went to the tunnel to protect it.  

On 14 July, Brigadier General Lee Chu Sik, Commanding General, ROK 3rd Division, indicated that he wanted to move the division command post to Pohangdong and to withdraw his troops south of Yongdok. Colonel Emmerich told him this could not be done—that the east coast road had to be held at all costs. General Walker had given a great deal of attention to the east coast situation because he knew it was isolated from the rest of the ROK command and needed close watching, and Colonel Allan D. MacLean of the Eighth Army G-3 staff was in constant communication with Colonel Emmerich.

Support of the ROK 3rd Division had stabilized to the extent that large fishing vessels moved from Pusan up and down the coast, supplying the ROK’s with ammunition and food, without being targets of the United States Navy. News that a railhead would be established at Pohang-dong and a daily supply train would arrive there from Pusan promised soon to relieve the situation still further. On land, each ROK commander had his own system of recruiting help and had large numbers of untrained combat troops and labor groups carrying supplies into the hills on A-frames. At this stage of the war, typical food of the ROK soldier was three rice balls a day—one for each meal—supplemented along the coast by fish. The rice was usually cooked behind the lines by Korean women, then scooped out with a large cup which served as a measuring device, pressed into a ball about the size of an American softball, and wrapped in a boiled cabbage leaf. Whether his rice was warm or cold or whether flies and other insects had been on it, seemed to have little effect on the ROK soldier. Apparently the Korean people had become immune to whatever disease germs, flies, and other insects carry. 

[N12-1 Col Rollins S. Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57; Interv, author with Darrigo (KMAG adviser to ROK 17th Regt, Jul-Aug 50), 5 Aug 53.] 

As the east coast battle shaped up, it became apparent that it would be of the utmost importance to have a fire direction center to co-ordinate the 81mm. mortars, the artillery, the fighter aircraft, and the naval gunfire. Such a center was set up in a schoolhouse south of Yongdok with Captain Harold Slater, the KMAG G-3 adviser to the 3rd Division, in charge of it and Captain John Airsman as artillery adviser. The ROK 3rd Division artillery at this time consisted of three batteries of four 75-mm. pack howitzers and one battery of 105mm. howitzers.  

On 14 July ROK troops withdrew in front of the advancing North Koreans and set off demolitions at two bridges, two tunnels, and two passes between Yonghae and Yongdok on the coastal road. United States naval vessels bombarded roadside cliffs next to the sea to produce landslides that would block the road and delay the North Koreans.  

Two days later the ROK 23rd Regiment gave way and streamed south. The KMAG advisers considered the situation grave. In response to an inquiry from Colonel Collier of Eighth Army, Colonel Emmerich sent the following message: Situation deplorable, things are popping,

trying to get something established across the front, 75% of the 23rd ROK Regiment is on the road moving south. Advisers threatening and shooting in the air trying to get them assembled, Commanding General forming a straggler line. If straggler line is successful we may be able to reorganize and re-establish the line. If this fails I am afraid that the whole thing will develop in complete disintegration. The Advisory Group needs food other than Korean or C rations and needs rest.

 On 17 July the North Koreans drove the disorganized regiment south of Yongdok. The loss of this town so quickly was a demoralizing blow, and Eighth Army became at once concerned about it. During the day the first United States artillery to support the ROK’s on the east coast, C Battery of the 159th Field Artillery Battalion, entered the fight. 

[N12-3 159th FA Bn WD (25th Div), 17 Jul 50. 4 Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57.]

 The enemy entry into Yongdok began three weeks of fighting for this key coastal town, with first one side and then the other holding it. Two or three miles of ground immediately south of it became a barren, churned up, fought-over no man’s land. The first ROK counterattack came immediately. On 18 July at 0545 an air strike came in on the enemy front lines. Heavy naval gunfire pounded the Yongdok area after the strike. At 0600 the United States light cruiser Juneau fired two star shells over the ROK line of departure. Newly arrived reinforcements took part in the attack as ROK troops advanced behind the screen of naval gunfire to close rifle range with the North Koreans. At the same time, other naval guns placed interdiction fire on the North Korean rear areas. These heavy support fires were largely responsible for a North Korean withdrawal to a point about three miles north of Yongdok for reorganization. 

But this success was short lived. Elements of the N.K. 5th Division regained the town the next day, driving the ROK’s back to their former positions south of it.

 On 20 July Colonel Emmerich went to Yonil Airfield to discuss with Colonel Robert Witty, commanding the 35th Fighter-Interceptor Group, the co-ordination of air strikes at Yongdok. These promised to become more numerous, because on that day the 40th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron became operational at Yonil. General Walker and General Partridge flew to Yonil Airfield from Taegu to join in the discussions, and General Kean of the 25th Division also joined the group there. Emmerich briefed the commanders thoroughly on the situation. General Walker ordered that the 3rd ROK Division must retake Yongdok. When Colonel Emmerich relayed Walker’s orders to General Lee of the ROK division the latter was upset, but he received instructions from higher ROK authority to obey the Eighth Army commander. 

The second battle for Yongdok began on the morning of 21 July. This was a savage and bloody fight at close quarters. Naval reinforcements had arrived off the coast during the night of 19 July, and Rear Admiral J. M. Higgins informed Emmerich that the destroyers Higbee, Mansfield, DeHaven, and Swenson, and the British cruiser Belfast would add their gunfire to the battle. This naval gunfire,

 U.S. artillery and mortar fire, and air strikes enabled the ROK’s to retake the town, only to be driven out again by nightfall. In this action unusually accurate enemy mortar and artillery fire caused very heavy ROK casualties. The second battle of Yongdok left the area from Kanggu-dong to a point about two miles north of Yongdok a smoldering no man’s land. The pounding of the artillery, naval gunfire, and air strikes had stripped the hills of all vegetation and reduced to rubble all small villages in the area.

 In the attack on the 21st, observers estimated that naval gunfire from the Juneau alone killed 400 North Korean soldiers. Even though enemy troops again held Yongdok they were unable to exploit their success immediately because they were held under pulverizing artillery and mortar fire, naval gunfire, and almost continuous daylight air strikes. In their efforts to execute wide enveloping moves around the flank of the ROK troops over mountainous terrain, barren of trees and other cover, they came under decimating fire. On 24 July alone the North Koreans lost 800 casualties to this gunfire, according to prisoners. One enemy battalion was virtually destroyed when naval gunfire from the east and air strikes from the west pocketed it and held it under exploding shells, bombs, and strafing fires.

 [N12-6 EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 20-24 Jul 50; EUSAK POR 26, 21 Jul 50; GHQ FEC Sitrep, 21 Jul 50; 35th Inf Regt WD, Unit Rpt, 1st Bn, 22 Jul 50; 159th FA Bn WD, 23-24 Jul 50; Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57; Karig, et al., Battle Report: The War in Korea, p. 101.]

 The reconstituted ROK 22nd Regiment arrived from Taegu, and about 500 men of the ROK naval combat team and its engineer battalion were sent to buttress the east coast force. [N12-7] All the troops on the east coast were now reorganized into a new ROK 3rd Division.

 [N12-7 EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, 24 Jul 50; GHQ FEC G-3 Opn Rpt 30, 24 Jul 50 and 31, 25 Jul 50.]

 Beginning on 9 July a succession of American units had performed security missions at Yonil Airfield below Pohang-dong; first the 3rd battalion of the 19th Infantry, then the 2nd Battalion of the 27th Infantry, next the 1st Battalion of the 35th Infantry, and that in turn gave way to the 1st Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment. Thus, in the course of two weeks, battalion-size units of all three United States divisions then in Korea had constituted a security force in the Pohang-dong area behind the ROK 23rd Regiment.

 Lieutenant Colonel Peter D. Clainos’ 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, had orders to support the ROK troops with fire only. But on 23 July, North Koreans surrounded the 81-mm. mortar platoon of D Company, forcing it to fight at close range. That same day, C Company on Round Top (Hill 181), at the southern outskirts of Yongdok, watched in silence as North Korean and ROK troops fought a seesaw battle in its vicinity. That night North Koreans surrounded the hill and C Company troops spent a sleepless night. The next day when the ROK’s regained temporary possession of Yongdok the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division replaced Colonel Clainos’ battalion in the blocking mission behind the ROK’s at Yongdok.

 [N12-8 EUSAK WD, G-3 Sec, 16-22 Jul 50; Ibid., Summ, 13-31 Jul 50; Clainos, Notes for author, May 1954; 24th Div WD, G-2 Jnl, entry 1533, 230935 Jul 50.]

 Despite the savage pounding it received from naval, artillery, and mortar fire and aerial bombardments, the N.K. 5th Division held on to the hills two miles south of Yongdok. The ROK’s adopted a plan of making counter and probing attacks during the day and withdrawing to prepared positions in an all-around perimeter for the night. The saturation support fires delivered by the United States Navy, Air Force, and Army day and night outside this perimeter caused many enemy casualties. Certain key pieces of terrain, such as Hill 181, often changed hands several times in one day. Unfortunately, many civilians were killed in this area as they tried to move through the lines and were caught by the supporting fires. Just south of Hill 181 and its surrounding rough ground, a small river, the Osipchon, descends the coastal range to the Sea of Japan. South of it, sheer mountain walls press the coastal road against the shoreline for ten miles in the direction of Pohang-dong, twenty-five miles away. If the ROK’s lost control of the Yongdok area, this bottleneck on the coastal road would be the scene of the next effort to stop the North Koreans.

 At this time the KMAG advisers had serious trouble with “Tiger” Kim, the commander of the ROK 23rd Regiment. He was extremely brutal in his disciplinary methods. In the presence of several advisers he had his personal bodyguard shoot a young 1st lieutenant of his regiment whose unit had been surrounded for several days. This incident took place on 26 July. The next day Kim used the butt of an M1 rifle on some of the enlisted men of this unit. The KMAG advisers remonstrated at this action, and in order to avoid possible personal trouble with Kim they asked for his removal. “Tiger” Kim was removed from command of the regiment and the commander of the 1st Separate Battalion, Colonel Kim, replaced him.

 [N12-9 Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57.]

 ROK troops regrouped for another desperate counterattack, to be supported by all available U.N. sea, air, and ground weapons, in an effort to hurl the North Koreans back to the north of Yongdok. At this time General Walker required hourly reports sent to his headquarters at Taegu. In action preliminary to the main attack, planned for the morning of 27 July, ROK troops during the night of the 26th captured seventeen machine guns, but took only eight prisoners. The preparatory barrages began at 0830. Then came the air strikes. The battle that then opened lasted until 2 August without letup. On that date at 1800 the ROK 3rd Division recaptured Yongdok and pursued the enemy north of the town. North Korean prisoners said that U.S. naval, artillery, and mortar fire and the air strikes gave them no rest, day or night. They said that in the two weeks’ battle for Yongdok the N.K. 5th Division had lost about 40 percent of its strength in casualties.

[N12-10 EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, 27 Jul 50 and 3 Aug 50; 159th FA Bn (25th Div) WD, 27 Jul 50; GHQ UNC G-3 Opn Rpts 36 and 37, 30-31 Jul, and 40, 3 Aug 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 96 (N.K. 5th Div), p. 42; Emmerich, MS review comments, 30 Nov 57.]

During the last half of July 1950, this holding battle on the east coast by the ROK 3rd Division was the only one that succeeded in all Korea. It was made possible by American air, sea, and ground fire power and the physical features of the east coast, which hampered North Korean freedom of movement and aided effective employment of American fire power.

 Of particular note among the battles during the last part of July in the central mountains was the duel between the N.K. 12th Division and the ROK 8th Division for control of Andong and the upper Naktong River crossing there. This series of battles was closely related to the fighting on the east coast and the North Korean efforts to gain control of Pohang-dong and the east coast corridor to Pusan.

 After crossing the upper Han River at Tanyang, the N.K. 12th Division advanced on the road through Yongju to Andong. The ROK 8th Division attacked the 12th on 21 July between the two towns. From then on to the end of the month these two divisions on the road to Andong engaged in one of the bloodiest fights of the first month of the war.

 Just when it was encountering this stubborn resistance from the ROK 8th Division, the 12th received orders from the N.K. II Corps to capture Pohangdong by 26 July. This order doubtless was occasioned by the failure of the 5th Division to advance as rapidly along the east coast as had been expected. Ever since the invasion began, the N.K. Army Command had criticized its N.K. II Corps for failure to meet its schedule of advance. The Army reportedly demoted the II Corps commander, Major General Kim Kwang Hyop, to corps chief of staff, about 10 July, replacing him with Lieutenant General Kim Mu Chong. The order given to the 12th Division was almost impossible to carry out. The distance from Yongju to Pohang-dong was about seventy-five air miles, and the greater part of the route, that beyond Andong, lay across high mountain ranges traversed only by foot and oxcart trails. Just to march across these mountains by 26 July would have been no mean feat.

[N12-11 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 12th Div), p. 45; G-2 PW Interrog file, interrog of Col Lee Hak Ku; FEC, telecon TT3559, 21 Jul 50.]

 In an effort to meet the deadline given it for the capture of Pohang-dong, the N.K. 12th Division resumed daylight marches. U.N. aerial attacks struck it daily. The ROK 8th Division at the same time fought it almost to a halt But, despite these difficulties the enemy division pressed slowly on toward Andong. At the end of the month it was engaged in a hard battle with the ROK 8th Division for the control of that key town and the upper Naktong River crossing site.

 The battle for Andong lasted five days. The river town finally fell on 1 August. The N.K. Army communiqué for 3 August, broadcast by the Pyongyang radio and monitored in Tokyo, claimed the capture of Andong on 1 August with 1,500 enemy killed and 1,200 captured. It alleged that captured equipment included 6 105-mm. howitzers, 13 automatic guns, 900 rifles, and a large number of vehicles.

 The ROK 8th Division, and some elements of the Capital Division which had joined it, lost very heavily in these battles. Enemy losses also were heavy. Prisoners reported that air attacks had killed an estimated 600 North Korean soldiers; that the 31st Regiment alone lost 600 men in the Andong battles; that the 2nd Battalion of the division artillery had expended all its ammunition and, rather than be burdened with useless weapons and run the risk of their capture or destruction, it had sent them back to Tanyang; that of the original 30 T34 tanks only 19 remained; and, also, that a shell fragment had killed their division commander. This enemy crack division, made up of veterans of the Chinese wars, was so exhausted by the Andong battle that it had no recourse but to rest where it was for several days in early August.

[N12-1313 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 99 (N.K. 12th Div), pp. 45-46; GHQ UNC G-3 Opn Rpt 37. 31 Jul 50; FEC telecon to DA TT3597, 30 Jul 50; TT3600, 31 Jul 50; TT3605, 1 Aug 50.]

Reorganization of the ROK Army  

To a considerable extent the reorganization of the ROK Army influenced the disposition of ROK troops and the U.S. 25th Division along the front. Throughout the first part of July there had been a continuing effort by American commanders to assemble the surviving men and units of the ROK Army that had escaped south of the Han River and to reorganize them for combat operations. Generals Church, Dean, and Walker each took an active interest in this necessary objective. As a part of this reorganization, the ROK Army activated its I Corps and with it directed ROK operations on the right flank of the U.S. 24th Division in the first part of July. The 1st, 2nd, and Capital Divisions had carried the fight for the ROK I Corps in the central mountains east of the Seoul-Taejon highway. By the time Taejon fell, these ROK divisions were each reduced to a strength of between 3,000 and 3,500 men. The ROK I Corps at that time had only one 3-gun and two 4-gun batteries of artillery. The three divisions reportedly each had ten 81mm. mortars without sights.  

[N12-14 24th Div WD, G-3 Jnl, 16-20 Jul 50, entry 148, Rpt of Opns with I Corps, ROK Army.]

 On 14 July the ROK Army activated its II Corps with headquarters at Hamchang. It was composed of the 6th and 8th Divisions and the 23rd Regiment. This corps controlled ROK operations in the eastern mountains and, to the extent that it could, it tried to control the 23rd Regiment on the east coast. But this latter effort never amounted to very much.

 Finally, on 24 July, the ROK Army reorganized itself with two corps and five divisions. ROK I Corps controlled the 8th and Capital Divisions; ROK II Corps controlled the 1st and 6th Divisions. The 2nd Division was inactivated Meeting at the battalion command post, the commanders of the various units planned a renewed assault for 0500 the next morning. Artillery and mortars zeroed in as scheduled, and soon the town was in flames. By this time, however, Yechon may already have been abandoned by the enemy. At Hamchang, Colonel Henry G. Fisher, commanding the 35th Infantry, received early that morning an erroneous message that the North Koreans had driven the 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry from Yechon. He started for the place at once.

 He found the battalion commander about five miles west of the town, but was dissatisfied with the information that he received from him. Fisher and a small party then drove on into Yechon, which was ablaze with fires started by American artillery shells. He encountered no enemy or civilians. The 3rd Platoon, 77th Engineer Combat Company, attached to Company K, entered the town with the infantrymen and attempted to halt the spread of flames —unsuccessfully, because of high, shifting winds. By 1300 Yechon was secured, and 3rd Battalion turned over control to the ROK 18th Regiment of the Capital Division the task of holding the town. The Capital Division now concentrated there the bulk of its forces and opposed the N.K. 8th Division in that vicinity the remainder of the month.

 [N12-19 Fisher, MS review comments, 27 Oct 57; 35th Inf WD and 24th Inf WD, 20-21 Jul 50.]

 General Kean and his 25th Division had to guard two main approaches to Sangju if he was to secure the town. First was the main road that crossed the Mungyong plateau and passed through Hamchang at the base of the plateau about fifteen miles due north of Sangju. Next, there was the secondary mountain road that crossed the plateau farther west and, once through the mountains, turned east toward Sangju.

 On the first and main road, the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, held a blocking position northwest of Hamchang, supported by a platoon of tanks from A Company, 79th Tank Battalion, and A Battery, 90th Field Artillery Battalion. Colonel Fisher was unable to concentrate his two-battalion regiment here for the defense of Sangju because the 1st Battalion had no sooner arrived on 25 July from Pohang-dong than it was sent posthaste the next day to reinforce the 27th Infantry Regiment on the next north-south line of communications westward.

 Thus, in effect, one battalion of U.S. troops stood behind ROK units on the Hamchang approach. On the second road, that leading into Sangju from the west, the 24th Infantry Regiment assembled two, and later all three, of its battalions. The 2nd Battalion of the 35th Infantry took up a hill position northwest of Hamchang and south of Mungyong on the south side of a stream that flowed past Sangju to the Naktong. On the north side of the stream a ROK battalion held the front line. Brigadier General Vennard Wilson, Assistant Division Commander, insisted that F Company of the battalion should be inserted in the center of the ROK line north of the stream, and this was done over the strong protests of Colonel Fisher and the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John L. Wilkins. Wilson thought the American troops would strengthen the ROK defense; Fisher and Wilkins did not want the untried company to be dependent upon ROK stability in its first engagement. Behind the ROK and F Company positions the ground rose in another hill within small arms range. Heavy rains had swollen the stream behind the ROK’s and F Company to a torrent that was rolling large boulders along its channel.

 On 22 July the North Koreans attacked. The ROK’s withdrew from their positions on either side of F Company without informing that company of their intentions. Soon enemy troops were firing into the back of F Company from the hill behind it. This precipitated an unorganized withdrawal. The swollen stream prevented F Company from crossing to the south side and the sanctuary of the 2nd Battalion positions. Walking wounded crowded along the stream where an effort to get them across failed.

 Two officers and a noncommissioned officer tied a pair of twisted telephone wires about their bodies and tried to swim to the opposite bank and fasten a line, but each in turn was swept downstream where they floundered ashore a hundred yards away on the same bank from which they had started. Some men drowned in trying to cross the swollen river. The covering fire of a platoon of tanks on the south side held off the enemy and allowed most of the survivors eventually to escape. In this fiasco, F Company lost 6 men killed, 10 wounded, and 21 missing.

 [N12-20 35th Inf Regt WD, 22 Jul 50; Fisher, MS review comments, 27 Oct 57.]

 The next morning five enemy tanks crossed the river and moved toward Hamchang. Artillery fire from a battery of the 90th Field Artillery Battalion knocked out four of the tanks. The fifth turned back across the river, and there an air strike later destroyed it.

 The 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, was still in its position when it received orders on 23 July to withdraw to a point 5 miles north of Sangju. On the 29th the battalion fell back 2 miles more, and the next day it moved to a position south of Sangju. On the last day of July the 35th Infantry was ordered to a blocking position on a line of hills 8 miles south of Sangju on the Kumchon road. In eleven days it had fallen back about thirty miles on the Sangju front. In these movements it did little fighting, but executed a series of withdrawals on division orders as the front around it collapsed.

[N12-21 35th Inf Regt WD, 23-31 Jul 50; 25th Div POR 28, 23 Jul 50; 25th Div WD, Narr Rpt, 8-31 Jul 50; 35th Inf Opn Instr, 25 Jul 50; ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 104 (N.K. 13th Div), p. 60]

 The ROK 6th Division continued its hard-fought action on the road through the mountains from Mungyong, but gradually it fell back from in front of the N.K. 1st Division. In the mountains above Hamchang the ROK 6th Division on 24 July destroyed 7 enemy T34 tanks. Three days later the ROK 1st Division, now relieved northwest of Sangju by the U.S. 24th Infantry and redeployed on the Hamchang front, reportedly destroyed 4 more tanks there with 2.36inch bazookas and captured 1 tank intact. The decimated remnants of the ROK 2nd Division, relieved by the 27th Infantry Regiment on the Hwanggan-Poun road, were incorporated into the ROK 1st Division. Thus, by 24 July the U.S. 25th Division had taken over from the ROK 1st and 2nd Divisions the sector from Sangju westward to the Seoul-Taegu highway, and these ROK troops were moving into the line eastward and northward from Sangju on the Hamchang front.

 [N12-22 FEC telecons with DA, TT3566, 23 Jul 50; TT3567, 24 Jul 50; TT3577, 25 Jul 50; TT3579, 26 Jul 50; ATIS Supp, Enemy Docs, Issue 1, pp. 4248, Battle Rpts 23 Jun-3 Aug 50, by NA unit, Ok Chae Min and Kim Myung Kap; 34th Div WD, G-2 Sec, entry 1616, 271900 Jul 50.]

 By 27 July all the Mungyong divide was in North Korean possession and enemy units were moving into the valley of the upper Naktong in the vicinity of Hamchang. Prisoners taken at the time and others captured later said that the N.K. 1st Division lost 5,000 casualties in the struggle for control of the divide, including the division commander who was wounded and replaced. The 13th Division, following the 1st, suffered about 500 casualties below Mungyong, but otherwise it was not engaged during this period.

[N12-23 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 3 (N.K. 1st Div), pp. 32-33; Ibid., Issue 104 (N.K. 13th Div), p. 60.]

Simultaneously with his appearance on the Hamchang road at the southern base of the Mungyong plateau north of Sangju, the enemy approached on the secondary mountain road to the west. On 22 July, the same day that F Company of the 35th Infantry came to grief north of Hamchang, elements of the 24th Infantry Regiment had a similar unhappy experience west of Sangju. On that day the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry, and elements of the ROK 17th Regiment were advancing into the mountains twenty miles northwest of the town. With E Company leading, the battalion moved along the dirt road into a gorge with precipitous mountain walls. Suddenly, an enemy light mortar and one or two automatic weapons fired on E Company.

 It stopped and the men dispersed along the sides of the road. ROK officers advised that the men deploy in an enveloping movement to the right and to the left, but the company commander apparently did not understand. Soon enemy rifle fire came in on the dispersed men and E and F Companies began withdrawing in a disorderly manner.

 Colonel Horton V. White, the regimental commander, heard of the difficulty and drove hurriedly to the scene. He found the battalion coming back down the road in disorder and most of the men in a state of panic. He finally got the men under control. The next day the ROK 17th Regiment enveloped the enemy position that had caused the trouble and captured two light machine guns, one mortar, and about thirty enemy who appeared to be guerrillas. [N12-24] The ROK 17th Regiment fought in the hills for the next two days, making some limited gains, and then it moved back to Sangju in the ROK Army reorganization in progress. This left only the U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment guarding the west approach to Sangju from the Mungyong plateau.

 [N12-24 24th Inf Regt WD, 22 Jul 50; 25th Div WD, Incl 3, 22 Jul 50; EUSAK. IG Rept on 24th Inf Regt, 1950, testimony of bn and regtl off, 2nd Bn and 24th Inf Regt. ]

 The tendency to panic continued in nearly all the 24th Infantry operations west of Sangju. Men left their positions and straggled to the rear. They abandoned weapons on positions. On one occasion the 3rd Battalion withdrew from a hill and left behind 12 .30-caliber and 3 .50-caliber machine guns, 8 60-mm. mortars, 3 81-mm. mortars, 4 3.5-inch rocket launchers, and 102 rifles. On another occasion, L Company took into position 4 officers and 105 enlisted men; a few days later, when the company was relieved in its position, there were only 17 men in the foxholes. The number of casualties and men evacuated for other reasons in the interval had been 1 officer and 17 enlisted men, leaving 3 officers and 88 enlisted men unaccounted for. As the relieved unit of 17 men moved down off the mountain it swelled in numbers to 1 officer and 35 enlisted men by the time it reached the bottom.

 By 26 July the 24th Infantry had all three of its battalions concentrated in battle positions astride the road ten miles west of Sangju. Elements of the N.K. 15th Division advancing on this road had cleared the mountain passes and were closing with the regiment. From 26 July on to the end of the month the enemy had almost constant contact with the 24th Infantry, which was supported by the 159th and 64th Field Artillery Battalions and one battery of the 90th Field Artillery Battalion.

 The general pattern of 24th Infantry action during the last days of July was to try to hold positions during the day and then withdraw at night. On the evening of 29 July the 1st Battalion got out of hand. During the day the battalion had suffered about sixty casualties from enemy mortar fire. As the men were preparing their perimeter defense for the night, an inexplicable panic seized them and the battalion left its positions. Colonel White found himself, the 77th Combat Engineer Company, and a battery of the 159th Field Artillery Battalion all that was left in the front line. He had to reorganize the battalion himself. That night the supporting artillery fired 3,000 rounds, part of it direct fire, in holding back the North Koreans.

 In these last days west of Sangju, Major John R. Woolridge, the regimental S-1, set up a check point half a mile west of the town and stopped every vehicle coming from the west, taking off stragglers. He averaged about seventy-five stragglers a day and, on the last day, he collected 150.27

[N12-27 EUSAK IG Rpt, 24th Inf Regt, 1950; 24th Inf WD, 29 Jul 50; 159th FA Bn WD, 29-30 Jul 50.]

 By 30 July, the 24th Infantry had withdrawn to the last defensible high ground west of Sangju, three miles from the town. The regiment had deteriorated so badly by this time that General Kean recalled the 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, and placed it in blocking positions behind the 24th Infantry. The next day North Koreans again pressed against the regiment and forced in the outpost line of resistance. In this action, 1st Lieutenant Leon A. Gilbert, commanding A Company, quit the outpost line with about fifteen men. Colonel White and other ranking officers ordered Lieutenant Gilbert back into position, but he refused to go, saying that he was scared. The senior noncommissioned officer returned with the men to their positions.

[N12-28 24th Inf WD, 30-31 Jul 50; EUSAK WD, G-3 Jnl, Msg 301355 Jul 50; JAG CM-343472, U.S. vs. 1st Lieutenant Leon A. Gilbert, O-1304518, (includes all legal action taken in the case up to commutation of sentence on 27 Nov 50); Washington Post, September 20, 1952.]

 Finally, during the night of 31 July the 24th Infantry Regiment withdrew through Sangju. The 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry, covered the withdrawal. In eleven days of action in the Sangju area the regiment had suffered 323 battle casualties—27 killed, 293 wounded, 3 missing.

 In reaching the upper Naktong valley at the end of July, the enemy divisions engaged in this part of the North Korean drive southward had not gone unharmed. The N.K. 1st Division in battling across the Mungyong plateau against the ROK 6th Division not only suffered great losses in the ground battle but also took serious losses from U.N. aerial attack. Prisoners reported that by the time it reached Hamchang at the end of July it was down to 3,000 men. The N.K.15thDivision, according to prisoners, also lost heavily to artillery and mortar fire in its drive on Sangju against ROK troops and the U.S. 24th Infantry Regiment, and was down to about half strength, or approximately 5,000 men, at the end of July. In contrast, the N.K. 13thDivision had bypassed Hamchang on the west and, save for minor skirmishes with ROK troops and the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, it had not been engaged and consequently had suffered relatively few casualties.

[N12-30 ATIS Res Supp Interrog Rpts, Issue 3 (N.K. 1st Div), pp. 32-33; Ibid., Issue 104 (N.K. 13th Div), p. 61; and p. 42 (N.K.15th Div); Ibid., Issue 4 (105th Armored Div), p. 38; EUSAK WD, G-2 Sec, 2 Aug 50, ATIS Interrog Rpt 339.]

SOURCE: South to the Naktong, North to the Yalu; BY: Colonel Roy E. Appleman (United States Army Center of Military History)

Korean War: (12B) 1st Cavalry Division Arrives 1950

Korean War: Withdrawal From Taejon (11B)

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World War Two: Sicily (2-11) Allies Push Inland

The Decisions Sixth Army and OB SUED: At Sixth Army headquarters in Enna, it was clear by the morning of 12 July that the period of counterattacks against the various Allied beachheads had ended. Until further decisions were made at higher levels in Rome and Berlin on whether or not to reinforce the island’s defenders, Sixth Army had no choice but to go over to the defensive.

 Lacking the manpower to erect a solid line around the Allied beachheads, General Guzzoni planned to shorten his front to a line across the northeastern corner of Sicily-from the east coast south of the Catania plain to Santo Stefano di Camastra on the north coast. He planned to withdraw slowly the forces in contact with the British and Americans to the eastern end of this line-from Catania to Nicosia-while the forces in the west moved to the sector of the line running between Nicosia and the north coast. Seeing this as a final defense line, Guzzoni planned to pull the units back first to intermediate defensive positions, along a line from Priolo on the east coast, through Melilli, Vizzini, Caltagirone, Canicatti, to Agrigento on the southwestern coast.

After temporarily delaying the Allied advance from the southeastern corner of the island, Guzzoni would fight a delaying action while falling back to the Catania-Santo Stefano line. But if this line was breached, Guzzoni intended to establish a third defensive line-a final battIe line that was to be held at all costs. Guzzoni did not immediately determine the location of this third line, except that he wanted it anchored on the east coast south of the Catania plain.

 Guzzoni realized that the success of this withdrawal maneuver depended on preventing an Allied breakthrough at the eastern hinge: Catania. This was the critical spot. This was the reasoning behind the order of 11 July that had directed the bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division to disengage and move northeast, first to the new intermediate defensive line, then to the southern edge of the Catania plain. The Livorno Division was also to fall back to this new line, screening the area between the Hermann Gӧring Division on the east and the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division on the west. For the Italian division, this meant a withdrawal of fifteen miles, from Mazzarino (where contact with the German Group Ens was to be made) east to San Michele di Ganzeria ( on Highway 124 northwest of Caltagirone), where contact with the Hermann Gӧring Division was to be made. With part of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division even then nearing Mazzarino, Guzzoni hoped the Livorno Division would be strong enough to block any American penetration into the important network of roads near Enna. But his entire plan relied on transferring the bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division quickly to the northeast.

 While Guzzoni was making his tactical arrangements, higher headquarters in Italy and Germany were following the campaign closely. In Germany OKW, after Pantelleria, had modified its views that the Allies were preparing a twin invasion of Sardinia and Greece. But as late as 9 July, OKW still considered that the Allies were preparing an invasion of Greece, with the first step being the occupation of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica.

OKW had considered that an Allied landing in Calabria might take place in conjunction with the landing in Sicily, but that a subsequent Allied landing on the Italian mainland was far less probable than the use of Sicily (or Sicily and Calabria) as a springboard for a jump to the Peloponnesus.

 On the basis of this appreciation, OKW on 9 July had directed Kesselring to move the German 29th Panzer Grenadier Division to the area north of Cosenza (ninety miles north-northeast of Reggio di Calabria); to shift the German 26th Panzer Division to an area east of Salerno; and to retain the German 16th Panzer Division near Bari, on the Adriatic Sea.

 Under the XIV Panzer Corps, the German units were to co-operate with the Italian Seventh Army in opposing an Allied landing in southern Italy. With one jaundiced eye directed at Mussolini’s unstable control of Italy, OKW retained the German 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division and LXXVI Corps headquarters north of Rome. On Hitler’s order, OKW alerted the German 1st Parachute Division, stationed near Avignon in southern France, for possible air movement to Sicily.

 The first reports of the fighting in Sicily did not give Hitler or the OKW a clear picture of the situation. Kesselring reported during the evening of 10 July that he had issued orders to General von Senger directing the bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division to destroy the American forces advancing toward Caltagirone and Group Schmalz to counterattack immediately and recapture Syracuse.

 With a better grasp of the situation on II July, Hitler decided to reinforce the German units in Sicily. Specifically, Kesselring was to transport the 1st Parachute Division by air to Sicily; transfer the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division to that island; and, upon commitment of the latter division, shift the headquarters of the XIV Panzer Corps to Sicily in order to give unified direction to all the German units there.

 Kesselring, too, by 11 July, had a much better appreciation of the strength which the Americans and British had landed on the loth, and he also realized that his plan to throw the invading Allied forces back into the sea had failed. He believed that he had an accurate view of the developments on the island from reports furnished him by the German Second Air Force. He attributed the failure of the Axis counterattacks chiefly to what he considered was Guzzoni’s delay in ordering the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division back to the central part of the island and to General Conrath’s slowness in counterattacking at Gela early on the morning of 10 July. Kesselring flew to Sicily on 12 July to see the situation at firsthand. At Sixth Army headquarters, Guzzoni and Senger were pessimistic about repelling the Allied invasion, and Kesselring had to agree. Resuming the offensive would have to await the arrival of reinforcements.

 Guzzoni doubted that he could hold all of Sicily. His main concern was no longer defending the entire island, but holding eastern Sicily until help arrived. Then a new counteroffensive could be started. He felt that his immediate tasks were to prevent any Allied breakthroughs into the interior of the island, and to consolidate all Axis forces then on Sicily in one strong battle position forward of Mount Etna.

 Kesselring shared Guzzoni’s doubts on the ultimate outcome of the battle of Sicily. But he also felt that the Allies had not yet gained a free hand on the island. Strong and immediate countermeasures might delay the Allies Indefinitely.

 The prospective arrival of the 1st Parachute and 29th Panzer Grenadier Divisions brought mixed feelings to Guzzoni and Senger. Both feared that the additional troops would accentuate an already serious strain on transportation and supply lines. Moreover, Senger privately opposed the introduction of more German forces into Sicily because he was convinced that the best course of action was an immediate evacuation from the island. Accompanied by Senger, Kesselring flew to the Catania airfield, where he met with Colonel Schmalz. Pleased with the steady and sure leadership demonstrated by Schmalz, Kesselring assured Schmalz that reinforcements were on the way. The 3rd Regiment, 1st Parachute Division, was en route and would be placed immediately at Schmalz’s disposal.

[N11-7 MS # T -2 K I (Kesselring) , pp. 19-2 I. Kesselring was wrong in his assumption that Guzzoni was slow in ordering the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division to retrace its steps. Guzzoni had issued this order on 10 July, a quick decision considering the limited amount of information available as to Allied intentions.]

 Like Guzzoni, Kesselring believed that the Axis might, at best, establish a tenable position across the northeastern neck of the island. But even this, Kesselring believed, required a strong directing headquarters such as the XIV Panzer Corps, reinforcement by at least one additional German division, and great improvement in the system of tactical communications. About 1800, while Kesselring waited to take off for Frascati, the three infantry battalions of the 3rd Regiment, 1st Parachute Division, flew in under fighter plane escort and dropped near the Catania airfield. The successful execution of this operation convinced Kesselring that more paratroopers could be brought safely to Sicily by air.

 As Kesselring departed the Catania airfield, the three paratrooper rifle battalions loaded on trucks and moved into line to reinforce Group Schmalz, two battalions south of Lentini, between the coastal highway and the coast line, the third battalion to Francofonte, a crucial point for the link-up with the main body of the Hermann Gӧring Division.

 General Conrath had executed only minor withdrawals during the night of 11 July when General Guzzoni ordered him early on 12 July to hurry his withdrawal to the Caltagirone-Vizzini-Palazzolo Acreide area. Still, Conrath did not appear in any rush to conform. While the Hermann Gӧring Division fought near Niscemi and Biscari, Guzzoni repeated his order-Conrath was to disengage from the Gela sector and move back as quickly as possible to Highway 124. General von Senger confirmed and amplified this order in two radio messages dispatched before noon, directing Conrath to make contact at Palazzolo Acreide with the Napoli Division and Group Schmalz, while the Livorno Division covered his western flank. Planning to wait until nightfall to pull his major units out of line, Conrath started his reconnaissance battalion back during the afternoon. After encountering the 179th Infantry north of Comiso, the battalion reached Vizzini during the late afternoon of 12 July. There it was reinforced by an infantry replacement battalion.

At 2140, 12 July, General von Senger dispatched another radiogram to Conrath instructing him to speed up his withdrawal to the Caltagirone line (Highway 124). The division’s slow movement was causing apprehension at Sixth Army headquarters, for the division was needed not only to strengthen the eastern wing but also to stop the American and British thrusts northward from Comiso and Ragusa. Just before midnight, Sixth Army ordered General Conrath to attack from Vizzini toward Palazzolo Acreide the following day. But by the morning of 13 July, the division was still south of Caltagirone, along a line running from Vizzini on the east almost to Highway 117 on the west.

[NOTE: Conrath’s reconnaissance battalion was reinforced by elements of an infantry regiment, probably the 382nd; this regiment had been on Sicily for some time, had been attached to the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division until 1 July, and subsequently, while stationed at Regalbuto, to the Hermann Gӧring Division.] 

To top off an extremely trying day for Sixth Army, the headquarters at Enna received a heavy Allied bombing attack late in the evening, making a transfer to Passo Pisciaro, east of Randazzo, imperative. The transfer was completed late the next day.

The Allied Problem: How to Continue

Even as the Axis commanders sought ways and means of slowing up the Allied advances, General Patton, late on the afternoon of 12 July, moved his headquarters ashore. He opened the first Seventh Army command post on Sicily at the eastern edge of Gela “in a very handsome mansion, abandoned in a hurry by the prominent owner, a doctor and fascist apparently, who lived there . . . in a spot which was apparently a Roman villa or something.” Optimism pervaded the army headquarters. Despite the Hermann Gӧring Division’s resistance to the 16th Infantry’s advance on Niscemi, and German opposition along part of the 45th Division’s front, General Patton and General Bradley were aware of the indications of Axis withdrawal from the 1st Division’s front. Reports from both the 16th and 26th RCT’s during the night were cheering. The 45th Division seemed to be encountering no more than delaying forces in its push to the Yellow Line. And General Keyes returned from the 3rd Division’s area with a very satisfactory report. All in all, General Patton was happy with the performance of the Seventh Army units. A number of distinguished visitors that day had been most complimentary. Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, the chief of the Combined Operations Headquarters, was greatly impressed by the operation in the II Corps zone. General Eisenhower, though pleased with the extent of the beachhead, was unhappy with what he considered General Patton’s failure to get news of the Seventh Army’s operations back to AFHQ promptly. “Ike … stepped on him hard.”  

Determined to keep the Seventh Army moving aggressively, General Patton directed the II Corps to continue its movement inland to seize its portion of the Yellow Line-from Mazzarino on the west to Grammichele on the east. He approved Keyes’ instructions to the 3rd Division for a reconnaissance toward Agrigento, the seizure of Canicattl., and the reduction of the roadblock southeast of Riesi. Without General Alexander’s approval, General Patton felt that he could not tell Truscott to exploit toward Callucas states, “I didn’t hear what he [Eisenhower said but he must have given Patton hell because Georgie was much upset.” Tanissetta and Enna, or toward Agrigento and the western part of the island.

 General Bradley’s two divisions moved quickly on 13 July. The 1st Division, with the 18th RCT returning to its control, entered Niscemi at 1000, advanced six miles north of Ponte Olivo airfield to seize two important hill masses astride Highway 117, and sent a third column seven miles northwest of Ponte Olivo to seize two other hill masses astride the Ponte Olivo-Mazzarino road. These advances were opposed only by long-range sniper and artillery fire. The 45th Division, in contrast, met with an unexpected complication. Late in the evening of 12 July, General Middleton sent word to his combat team commanders to continue driving toward Highway 124, the Yellow Line, by leapfrogging battalions forward and maintaining constant watchfulness to the flanks. On the left the 180th RCT was to cross the Acate River, secure the Biscari airfield, then push north toward Caltagirone.

 In the center, the 179th RCT was to push to Highway 124 in the vicinity of Grammichele. On the right, the 157th RCT was to drive northeast to Monterosso Almo, then swing northwest to take Licodia Eubea, almost on the highway. Because the 157th would be operating in part across the army boundary and in the British zone, Middleton warned Colonel Ankcorn to maintain careful liaison with the 1st Canadian Division on his right.

 Unknown to General Middleton, as well as to Generals Patton and Bradley, General Montgomery, the Eighth Army commander, had decided that Highway 124 west of Vizzini (the Seventh Army’s Yellow Line) belonged to him. Though the original invasion plan reserved the highway to the Americans, Montgomery halted the 1st Canadian Division at the small town of Giarratana and directed General Leese to use the rest of his 30 Corps in a drive on Caltagirone, Enna, and Leonforte. While the 30 Corps thus moved directly across the Seventh Army front, the 13 Corps was to continue to try to break through into the Catania plain. The Eighth Army would then advance on Messina on two widely separated axes: one up the coastal road on the east, the other into the interior through Enna, Leonforte, on to Nicosia, Troina, and Randazzo, in a swing around the western side of Mount Etna. The 13 Corps was to make the Eighth Army’s main effort. A second airborne drop was to seize the Primosole bridge over the Simeto River and a Commando landing was to capture the Lentini bridge. The operation was to start on the evening of 13 July. Without General Alexander’s approval, Montgomery ordered his units to start the operation.

 [N11-15 General Montgomery knew of Seventh Army’s plan to take Highway 124, since this was part of the original plan for the invasion of the island. But apparently General Montgomery felt that American operations should be restricted to the Caltanissetta-Canicatti-Agrigento area, while the Eighth Army made the main effort against Messina (Montgomery, Eighth Army, page 99). The fact that Montgomery had not yet secured Alexander’s approval to his new plan is indicated in a message which the 30 Corps commander sent to the 1st Canadian Division on 13 July: “45 U.S. Div now on general line Chiaramonte-Biscari. Information received they intend to send one brigade Vizzini, two brigades Caltagirone tomorrow 14 July. Army Comd rapidly attempting to direct them more to west to avoid clash with you, but in case NOT retire from accordingly. Warn all concerned.” Quoted in Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy, p. 87n.]

 General Montgomery’s new plan gave to the British Eighth Army the use of all the roads leading to Messina. There were only four roads on the entire island leading toward the important port city, and of the four, only two went all the way. The first was the east coast highway, on which Montgomery had his 13 Corps. The other through road was the north coast highway. Two roads to Messina were inland routes that ran toward Messina from Enna. The southernmost of these ran along the rim of Mount Etna; the other, some fifteen miles south of the north coast road, passed through Nicosia and Troina. Both the inner roads converged at Randazzo, on the Messina side of Mount Etna, where one road headed for the east coast road, and the other ran toward Messina. Montgomery’s specified axis of advance for the 30 Corps, if carried through to the north coast, would give that corps the possession of the fourth one. The assignment of these roads would effectively restrict the Seventh Army’s activities to the southwestern part of the island.

 In keeping with the Eighth Army directive, General Leese, commander of the 30 Corps, directed the British 23rd Armored Brigade to seize Vizzini during daylight of 13 July, Caltagirone during the evening of the same day. The British 51st Highland Infantry Division was to follow the armored brigade to secure Vizzini, and drive on the town of Scordia to protect the corps’ north flank. The 1st Canadian Division was to remain near Giarratana.

 Thus, when daylight came on 13 July, American and British units were heading toward the same objectives. Pushing out of Biscari m difficult terrain, along a single, narrow, secondary road effectively blocked by the Germans, facing strong delaying forces of the Hermann Gӧring Division, the 180th RCT did not get across the Acate River until late in the afternoon and then pushed only a little way farther on before being stopped again at the narrow Ficuzza River. Though the Ficuzza was no more than a small stream, both banks were precipitous, and the Germans had destroyed the bridge and blocked the narrow road which wound down to the crossing site.

 On the 179th RCT front, the regiment quickly abandoned the leapfrogging procedure and advanced on a wide front, battalions abreast. Detachments from the Hermann Gӧring Division fought stubborn rear guard actions while withdrawing toward Highway 124. Often the leading battalions were delayed by a few German troops supported by one or two armored vehicles left on critical terrain features. To dislodge even these small units, the battalions either had to deploy or wait for the flank security elements to catch up and flush out the Germans. In one or two cases, the Germans, from positions on especially good terrain features, counterattacked sharply before withdrawing to the next hill. The supporting American tanks proved of little use in the rugged terrain, but the 160th Field Artillery Battalion, a platoon of 4.2-inch mortars, and a platoon of self-propelled howitzers from the regimental Cannon Company performed yeoman service in aiding the infantry’s advance. 

By late afternoon, the 3rd Battalion, 179th Infantry, entered the small village of Granieri, about five miles south of Highway 124. By this time, too, the advance on a wide front had been discarded in favor of a column formation. Because civilians indicated that the Germans had a large armored force (an estimated 500 men and 35 tanks) deployed in an olive grove about three miles north of Granieri, the 3rd Battalion commander pushed his men to gain the high ground just north of the village. It took a night attack to accomplish this, but by 2300 the 3rd Battalion was in position on the hill mass astride the narrow dirt road it had been following all day. The remainder of the combat team closed in near the village. On the right Monterosso Alma fell to the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, at noon. A further advance by the battalion of almost three miles toward Vizzini was registered before increasing German resistance called a halt to the day’s activities.

 Licodia Eubea fell late in the afternoon to the 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry, but not before the battalion lost twenty men killed and forty wounded. Across its front, the 157th RCT stood less than three miles from the Yellow Line. Just before the news of the seizure of Licodia Eubea reached the combat team’s command post at Monterosso Almo, Colonel Ankcorn received an inkling of the Eighth Army’s new plan of action. 

Shortly after 1700, the leading elements of the 5 I st Highland Division began to arrive at Monterosso Alma. Surprised, Ankcorn learned that the Highlanders were on their way to take Vizzini. The 23rd Armored Brigade, advancing northeastward from Palazzolo Acreide, had run head on into the Hermann Gӧring Division (going the opposite way) and had been stopped by fierce resistance from Germans and Italians (the remnants of the Napoli Division) east of Vizzini. The Highlanders had been committed to the south of Vizzini to clear the town for the armored brigade. Colonel Ankcorn had been told of the armored brigade’s move on Vizzini, but since he had neither seen nor heard anything from that column, he had continued his attack on Vizzini. Now it appeared to Colonel Ankcorn that the British were to take Vizzini after which the Eighth Army would swing northward along the army boundary. But as far as the 157th Combat Team commander was concerned, the rest of the highway was in the Seventh Army’s area and that part of the highway west of Vizzini was still his objective. Nevertheless, he radioed General Middleton news of the latest British movements. 

The news from the 157th Combat Team’s front neat Vizzini must have created some r:onfusion at Seventh Army’s command post late in the afternoon of 13 July. General Alexander had visited General Patton that very morning. Patton asked for approval to take Agrigento and Porto Empedocle, the ports which he felt would be needed to continue the logistical support of Seventh Army. The army group commander did not disapprove the request, but he did not want the Seventh Army to get entangled in a fight which might interfere with its primary mission: the protection of the Eighth Army’s left flank. Accordingly, he told General Patton that the Seventh Army could take Agrigento and Porto Empedocle provided this could be done by reconnaissance troops and provided the operation did not cost too much in manpower or material. Nothing was said about any change in the boundary between the Seventh and Eighth Armies. Nothing was said about the assignment of Highway 124 to the British. 

Just before midnight, any confusion that may have existed was cleared up when General Alexander radioed the following directive to the Seventh Army: Operations for the immediate future will be Eighth Army to advance on two axes, one to capture the port of Catania and the group of airfields there and the other to secure the network of road communications within the area Leonforte-Enna. Seventh Army will conform by pivoting on Palma di Montechiaro-Canicaui –Caltanissetta -gaining touch with Eighth Army at road junction HOW 1979 [the junction of Highways 117 and 122 southwest of Enna]. Boundary between Seventh and Eighth Armies, road Vizzini-Caltagirone-Piazza Armerina-Road Junction HOW 1979-Enna, all inclusive to Eighth Army. Liaison will be carefully arranged between Seventh andEighth Armies for this operation. The directive came as a surprise and adistinct disappointment to the Seventh Army staff, for the order gave the Americans a passive role in the campaign.

[NOTE:. Lucas Diary, pt. I, p. 64; Truscott, Command Missions, p. 218. Seventh Army’s directive of 13 July, which was issued shortly before noon on 15 July, and which must have been seen by General Alexander, indicates that nothing was said about any change in the boundary between the two Allied armies. It also indicates that General Montgomery must have approached General Alexander with his new proposal after the latter returned from visiting the Seventh Army, and that the approval to Montgomery’s new plan was given at the same time.]

Patton’s staff had expected to advance to the general line Agrigento-Canicatti-Caltanissetta and the II Corps to advance inland along Highway 124. The Americans had expected to make the swing around the western side of Mount Etna toward Messina, while the British Eighth Army massed its power for a drive around the eastern side. 

But General Patton did not dispute the order. On the morning of 14 July he called General Bradley to Seventh Army headquarters and explained the new directive. It entailed side-slipping the 45th Division to the west; giving up Highway 124; and shifting the II Corps advance from north to west. 

General Bradley was keenly disappointed. “This will raise hell with us,” he exclaimed. “I had counted heavily on that road. Now if we’ve got to shift over, it’ll slow up our entire advance.” The II Corps commander asked whether he could use Highway 124 at least to move the 45th Division to the left of the 1st Division in order to maintain the momentum of his advance. The answer was, “Sorry, Brad, but the changeover takes place immediately. Monty wants the road right away.” 

After reading General Alexander’s directive, Bradley returned it gloomily to Patton. He knew that the Germans were falling back toward the northeast. He felt certain that the Axis commanders were pulling back hoping to reassemble their forces across the narrow neck of the Messina peninsula. The delay encountered in pulling the 45th Division out of line and moving it around the rear of the 1st Division to a new position on the left of General Allen’s unit would take considerable pressure off the Hermann Gӧring Division and perhaps enable the Germans to recover their balance. To General Bradley, it appeared that General Montgomery planned to take Messina alone, while the Seventh Army confined its efforts to the western half of the island. 

Although there had been no prepared plan by 15th Army Group for the maneuver of the two armies after the seizure of the initial assault objectives, the assault plan itself contained by implication the general scheme which General Alexander hoped to follow. While the Eighth Army thrust forward into Catania and then into Messina, the Seventh Army was to protect the flank and rear of the main striking force because General Alexander was convinced that the Eighth Army was better qualified for the main task than the Seventh Army.

[N11-2222 Intervs, Mathews with Alexander, 10-15 Jan 49, p. 12. The views which Alexander entertained of the capabilities of American troops were by no means unique but were widespread among British officers and officials. See Bradley, A Soldier’s Story, pp. 58-59, 67-68. Alexander’s skeptical attitude regarding the quality of American troops persisted long after the Sicilian Campaign; in fact, it persisted to the period when the situation had changed radically, when American troops in Italy had to bear the brunt of the fighting because of the exhaustion of British divisions. See Interv, Smyth and Mathews with Marshall, 25 Jul 49, at the Pentagon, p. 20.] 

On 13 July, when General Alexander issued his directive to General Patton, he felt it necessary to restrain the impetuous American commander, to keep the Seventh Army doing its primary job, and not to endanger the operation by movements which might expose the Eighth Army to strong Axis counterattacks. Events were going according to plan: the Eighth Army had secured a firm beachhead and was moving on Catania with seeming good speed. The inexperienced American divisions could best be nursed along with limited assignments which would gradually build up their fighting morale and experience.

 In addition to his confidence in the Eighth Army and his distrust of American troops, General Alexander was most concerned about the network of roads which converged in the center of Sicily like the spokes of a huge wheel-in the rough quadrangle bounded by Caltanissetta-San Caterina-Enna-Valguarnera-Caropepe. As long as this network of roads remained in enemy hands, General Alexander feared that the Axis might use the area to launch a mighty counterattack against General Montgomery’s left flank. It was this concern that led Alexander to make sure that his armies held a solid front-meaning that the Eighth Army would be firmly established on a line from Catania to Enna-before pushing the campaign any further.

 Seventh Army, General Alexander felt, should cover the Eighth Army’s left flank until the latter had secured the firm line. Once that line had been secured, the exploitation phase of the operation could begin. It would then be safe to thrust out. General Alexander feared that if the Seventh Army pushed out prematurely all over the western half of the island, the enemy might drive in on Eighth Army’s left flank. This could cause the Allied armies on Sicily a serious reverse, if not a disaster. Alexander wanted no defeat. He wanted to be certain that the Eighth Army was in a secure position before he let “Georgie” go and exploit.

After telephoning a report of the situation in Sicily to General JodI, Field Marshal Kesselring saw Mussolini on 13 July. Kesselring’s account of developments on the island shocked Mussolini. News of the apparently successful counterattacks on 10 July had raised Italian hopes and prompted joyful celebrations in Rome. Disappointment was therefore greater when, less than two days later, the scanty war bulletins spoke of “containment” instead of “elimination” of the Allied beachheads. Even in those military circles where no one had seriously expected the coastal defense units to put up much more than token opposition, the resistance appeared disappointingly brief. The two mobile divisions, the Livorno and Napoli, had shown some good fighting qualities, but as soon as they had come into range of the Allied naval guns, they had halted their attacks and retired. The collapse of the naval base at Augusta and Syracuse was beyond comprehension. [N11-24] For Mussolini, news of the fall of the naval base was the more depressing because it reached him through German channels and on the heels of the first favorable reports from Gela.[N11-25]

[N11-24 MS #R-I39, High Command Decisions, 12 July-15 August 1943, ch. X of Axis Tactical Operations in Sicily (Bauer), p. 4.]

[N11-25 OKW/WFSt, KTB, I.-3I. VII.43, 13 Jul 43. General von Rintelen, the German Military Attache, brought Mussolini a copy of the message received in OKW on 12 July 1943. See Benito Mussolini, The Fall of Mussolini, His Own Story, translated by Frances Frenaye (New York: Farrar Straus, 1948), pp. 37-38.]

The unfavorable developments on Sicily increased the already serious friction between the Italian and German high commands. Discussions soon went beyond the defense of the island and entered the far-reaching problems connected with the Italo-German partnership III the war effort. 

Examining the situation at the end of 12 July, Comando Supremo determined that the coastal defenses had indeed collapsed and that Axis inferiority in naval and aerial strength had made it relatively easy for the Allies to land additional troops faster and in greater numbers than the Axis countries could hope to match. Since the counterattacks had failed, the only effective defense now appeared to be to wage unrelenting warfare on the Allied sea lanes. But in order to do this, it was imperative to increase the Axis air forces committed to the defense of Sicily. Since Italy had no reserve of planes, Mussolini asked Hitler for help. In an appeal to the Führer, the Duce pointed out that German planes were needed immediately, but only for a short time. Once the crisis in Sicily had been overcome, the aircraft would again be available for other commitments. If Germany really came to Italy’s aid and German planes arrived promptly, Mussolini saw some hope for the defense of Sicily. Otherwise, “if we do not throw out the invaders right now, it will be too late.”

 On 14 July, Mussolini continued to find the situation on Sicily to be disquieting but not irretrievable. Before he would make any further decisions, the Duce wanted to know from Comando Supremo exactly what had happened, what the remaining potential was, and how that potential could be increased. But if Mussolini saw a possibility of saving the situation in Sicily-provided the Germans sent planes and reinforcements-Comando Supremo was ready to toss in the sponge. Ambrosio, on 14 July, notified Mussolini that the fate of Sicily had been sealed, and he urged the Duce to consider ending the war to spare Italy further waste and destruction. 

In Germany, Hitler’s spontaneous reaction upon learning of the Allied invasion had been to send help in the form of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division. But the news immediately after of the failure of the coastal defense troops and the collapse of the Naval Base Augusta-Syracuse called for a review of the situation. 

Kesselring’s telephone report to General Jodi on 13 July described the situation on the island as critical. Because of Allied strength, the failure of the Italian coastal units, and the lack of mobility of the German units, Kesselring said there was no chance to mount another concerted counterattack against the Allied beachheads. The best that could be hoped for was to fight for time. This in itself, Kesselring believed, would be an accomplishment of great importance in view of the detrimental effect the loss of Sicily would have on Italian determination to continue the war. In Kesselring’s opinion, all was not yet lost. He proposed to move the remainder of the German parachute division and all of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division to Sicily; to reinforce the Luftwaffe; and to increase the number of submarines and small motor boats operating against Allied convoys.

 Aware of the danger inherent in fighting a two-front war, Hitler had known for months-at least since the defeats at Stalingrad and in North Africa-that he would have to weaken the Eastern Front if he wanted to strengthen the German position in the Mediterranean. The German offensive to retake Kursk on the Eastern Front-Operation ZIT ADELLE-had started on 5 July, only five days before the Allied invasion of Sicily. But in view of the changed military situation in the Mediterranean, and because of Hitler’s wish to have politically reliable troops in Italy, he decided to call off ZIT ADELLE on 13 July. This measure gave Hitler the troops for Italy, including in particular an SS Panzer corps on whose political attitude he could rely.

 Although predominantly preoccupied with the events in Russia, Hitler saw the possible loss of Sicily principally in the light of a threat to the Balkans. Moreover, the probable loss of air bases on Sicily would decrease the radius of Axis air activity and increase that of the Allies, thus bringing Allied air power closer to the northern Italian industrial cities as well as to the German homeland. If the Germans intended to hold on to the Italian mainland as a bulwark against an assault on the Balkan peninsula, or on Germany itself, they could do so only with Italian co-operation. The German high command knew full well that the Italians were tired of the war. Long before, Hitler had planned ALA RICH to keep the Italians from going over to the Allies. But the invasion of Sicily by strong British and American armies renewed German fears of a possible overthrow of Mussolini and the withdrawal of Italy from the war. 

General Jodl felt that Sicily could not be held for any great length of time. He decided that the moment had come to prepare for the defense of the Italian mainland and of the German homeland. He also felt that no German forces should be sent south of the line of the northern Apennines for fear that they would be cut off in the event of a military or political upheaval in Italy. But Kesselring’s recommendation to continue the defense of Sicily coincided with Hitler’s doctrine of holding whatever territory German soldiers occupied, and Kesselring’s recommendation helped override JodI’s objections. Hitler decided to aid his Italian ally. He was prepared to take radical action in case of a political change in Italy, but as long as Mussolini remained in power, Hitler was willing to give him all possible support. 

Hitler acknowledged that the German forces on Sicily were, alone, not strong enough to throw the Allies back into the sea, the more so since another Allied landing on the western coast had to be anticipated. He therefore redefined the task of the German troops on the island as “to delay the enemy advance as much as possible and to bring it to a halt in front of the Aetna along a defense line running approximately from San Stefano via Adrano to Catania.” In other words, only eastern Sicily was to be held, western Sicily was to be abandoned. Hitler also confirmed the insertion of the XIV Panzer Corps under General Hube into the chain of command on the island-without, however, rescinding his previous orders that the Italians were to hold all tactical commands-and he ordered the rest of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division moved to Sicily. At the same time, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division was to move to Reggio di Calabria to await possible transfer to Sicily. The final decision on its transfer across the Strait of Messina would depend on the amount of supplies within the German position on Sicily and on the maintenance of safe traffic across the Strait of Messina. The German Second Air Force was to receive three bomber groups (including one night bomber group) as reinforcements. One additional bomber group and a torpedo plane squadron were to be added at a later date. Hitler also ordered eight 210-mm. guns sent to the Strait of Messina, and demanded the addition of German personnel to the crews of the Italian coastal batteries, a measure to which Ambrosio agreed.

 Hitler then issued special instructions to the XIV Panzer Corps, with the understanding that the instructions were to be kept secret from the Italians and that knowledge of the instructions was to be confined to a restricted group of German officers. Working closely with General von Senger and the German liaison staff then at Sixth Army, General Hube was quietly to exclude the Italian command echelons from any further German planning; assume complete direction of operations in the Sicilian bridgehead; and extend his command to the remaining Italian units on the island. General JodI, most anxious to save German manpower for the future defense of the Italian and German homelands, enlarged on Hitler’s secret instructions. JodI directed Hube to conduct operations on Sicily with the basic idea of saving as much of the German forces as possible. This, too, was to be kept secret from the Italians.

[N11-3030 MS #T-2 K I (Kesselring); MS #T-2 (Fries et al.), p. 22; OKWjWFSt, KTB. 1.-31.VII.43, 13-15 Jul 43; quotation and text of Hitler’s directive for further warfare in Sicily, 13 Jul 43, in ONI, Führer Directives, 1942-1945; German text in Msg, Keitel to OB SUED, 13 Jul 43, in folder OKH, Op Abt, Westliches Mittelmeer, Chefs., 19. V.43-1 1. VII.44; SKLj 1 .Abt. KTB, Teil A., 1.-31.vII.43, 14 Jul 43; Erich von Manstein, Verlorene Siege (Bonn: Athenaeum-Verlag, 1955), pp. 501-04.] 

Kesselring may not have known of Hitler’s and JodI’s secret orders to Hube when he informed Ambrosio and Roatta on 14 July that the existing line on Sicily could not be held with the then available Axis forces. After a general withdrawal all along the line, however, the northeastern part of Sicily could be defended on a line between Santo Stefano and Catania. This was in agreement with Guzzoni’s views. Kesselring also announced General Hube’s transfer to Sicily to assume command of the German forces, and he received assurances from Ambrosio that Comando Supremo had issued sharp orders for the restoration of discipline in the Italian Army. 

On the next day, 15 July, Mussolini, Ambrosio, Kesselring, and Rintelen met in a conference in Rome. The discussions satisfied no one. Mussolini wanted the proposed defensive line extended farther west to include all of the Madonie Mountains. Ambrosio pressed for the immediate transfer of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division to Sicily and for the movement of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division into Calabria to protect the toe of Italy. Kesselring had the unpleasant task of explaining that the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division could not be shifted into Sicily until its requisite supplies were assured. 

Meanwhile, everything should be done to protect the traffic over the Strait of Messina. Ambrosio, holding to his views, urged that since Calabria represented a most delicate zone, the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division should be moved immediately to that area. Here Kesselring was at a loss. The Führer insisted on holding that particular division near Lake Bolsena to protect the area of Livorno (Leghorn), Kesselring declared, but why Hitler had fears for Leghorn, Kesselring did not know. This concluded the conference. [N11-32] Although no specific decisions had been made, it was evident that at least some of the Axis leaders intended to defend Sicily as long as possible.

[N11-32 Min of Mtg between Mussolini, Kesselring, and others, in Rome, 15 Jul 43, IT 3037. SeeFaldella, Lo Sbarco, p. 191.]

 On the same day, Kesselring talked with Roatta, the chief of Superesercito, about the best place to defend Italy: in Sicily or on the northern Apennines line. Kesselring convinced Roatta that holding a bridgehead on Sicily was imperative for both military and political reasons. The two men then decided to establish a defensive front “around the Etna” from which the Axis forces on Sicily would first offer stubborn resistance and then resume the offensive. Since General Hube was scheduled to arrive in Sicily on this day to take over command of the German troops, Kesselring assured Roatta that in all circumstances the tactical command over the German forces on the island would remain in General Guzzoni’s hands. General von Senger was to retain only his function as liaison officer with Sixth Army. Kesselring also suggested that Italian units be intermingled with the German divisions, but Roatta deferred a decision on this point. The two generals estimated that the addition of the two German divisions and Hube’s corps headquarters would make it possible to hold a front on Sicily, at least until mid-August.

Thus, by 15 July, Kesselring and Guzzoni seemed united in believing that at least a part of Sicily could be held. Kesselring wanted always to fight, as long as there was a chance. Guzzoni wanted to do his duty, but he fully realized that his only effective troops on Sicily were German, and that he would have to depend on full German support to hold even the northeastern corner of the island. At the higher echelons of Axis military command, this unity of feeling was not so apparent. Ambrosio felt that the war was lost, and he wanted to save the Italian armed forces and to separate Italy from Germany. JodI did not want to risk having the German forces in Sicily cut off, or to send good money after bad. Mussolini appeared undecided. He wanted to end the war but he needed a tactical success to achieve the proper time for making a peace move. Hitler did not want to withdraw, and he was willing to support Mussolini if the Italians would fight. 

On Sicily itself after Kesselring’s departure Guzzoni found little good in the situation. Group Schmalz was barely holding on to its Lentini positions; the delay in the withdrawal of the bulk of the Hermann Gӧring Division prevented the blocking of the Allied advances toward Francofonte and Vizzini, and made it doubtful that the formation could be moved east fast enough to defend at the southern edge of the Catania plain. There was, consequently, no assurance against an Allied advance into the Catania plain. Guzzoni did not know when he could expect the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division. The Italian units had suffered heavy casualties and were exhausted. Italian morale was at a low ebb. The Allies seemed to be exerting their strongest pressure on both wings of the invasion front while, at the same time, maintaining dangerous pressure in the center. 

General Guzzoni still expected to form and hold a main defensive line with its eastern hinge south of the Catania plain. Again, on 13 July, he urged the Hermann Gӧring Division to move to the Catania area with the greatest possible speed. Guzzoni also picked this time to define his main battle position farther to the rear, the position which would be held at all costs and from which the Axis forces could return to the initiative. He proposed the line running from Acireale (north of Catania) -Adrano-Cesaro-San Fratello, and he notified Superesercito to this effect, adding that, he planned to start the withdrawal of the units immediately, delaying as much as possible. 

Superesercito reluctantly consented to Guzzoni’s proposal but qualified its approval by stating that such a movement to the rear was authorized only if it should prove impossible to prevent an Allied breakthrough into the Catania plain and only if the new eastern wing would be strong enough to permit Axis units in central and western Sicily to move to eastern Sicily in time. [NOTE: IT 99a. an. 20 and entry, 13 Jul 43 (no time given, but apparently late at night, 13 Jul 43 ).

 Just a short time later, though, Comando Supremo overrode the army command’s approval. The Italian high command insisted that the positions then occupied by Sixth Army be held at all costs. Specifically, the Catania plain and the airfields at Catania and Gerbini were to remain in Axis hands. The telephone message transmitting these instructions closed with the remark that “very numerous” German planes were on their way to Sicily. 

Because the British 13 Corps was regrouping preparatory to making its major effort that same evening, Group Schmalz had little difficulty in holding its positions just south of Lentini on 13 July. Colonel Schmalz received further reinforcements in the form of other units from the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division: a parachute machine gun battalion; an airborne engineer battalion; and four batteries of airborne artillery. In addition, two separate German infantry battalions which had crossed into Sicily on the 11th were also attached to his command. 

In the late afternoon of 13 July, Colonel Schmalz was able to get through a telephone call to General Conrath. After some discussion, the German commanders agreed that both groups would fall back to a position along the northern rim of the Catania plain, there to make contact on the morning of 15 July. The whole of the Hermann Gӧring Division would then be united and would form its main line of resistance along the line LeonforteCatenanuova-Gerbini-Catania. For the remainder of 13 and 14 July, Colonel Schmalz would have to hold where he was.

By late evening of 13 July, the Hermann Gӧring Division completed its withdrawal to the Caltagirone-Vizzini line, although it kept strong elements south of that line to blunt the various American thrusts inland from Niscemi, Biscari, and Comiso. The Italian Livorno Division also withdrew further into the interior to establish a new line between the two German divisions and to prevent a possible American breakthrough at Piazza Armerina.

 In the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division area, the German units had little trouble holding their new line on 13 July. Only minor actions took place between American patrols and the German and Italian units. Group Fullriede, still under General Schreiber’s control, extended its front eastward toward Caltanissetta. Group Ens remained along a line running from Piazza Armerina to Pietraperzia. Sometime during the late evening of 12 July, General Rodt, the division commander, received word from Sixth Army to prepare to withdraw to the new line of resistance south of Mount Etna. The division was to fight delaying actions back to a new line which extended from AgiraLeonforte-Nicosia-Gangi, and at the same time establish contact with the Hermann Gӧring Division across the remnants of the Li·vorno Division. Accordingly, General Rodt moved his division headquarters to Grottacalda (two and a half miles southwest of Valguarnera) and started to transfer the division’s service elements to the new line.

 The Axis defenses were giving way, but they were not crumbling. The Allies had yet to conquer Sicily.

SOURCE: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: BY; Lieutenant Colonel Albert Nutter Garland & Howard McGaw Smyth (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Sicily (2-12); Seventh Army Changes Directions

World War Two: Sicily (2-10): Beachhead Secure