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KIA Purple Heart - Italy - April 24, 1945


Guest Darrell
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Guest Darrell

Another KIA Purple Heart arrived today. This one for an Italian KIA very late in the war (2 weeks from the end :().

Pasquale Gentile. Fought with the 1st Armored Division, 14th Infantry Battalion. Probably died during the fighting around the time the Po river was crossed in late April 1945.

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Guest Darrell

9. The next few pages give some background and battles fought during the date of Pasquale's death in April 1945.

Battle

By 21 April the Allies had completed the transition to a large-unit, fast-paced, and highly mechanized pursuit. The final units of Crittenberger's IV Corps emerged from the Apennines foothills with the 1st Armored Division on the left, the 10th Mountain Division in the center, and the 85th Infantry Division on the right. Truscott's first priority was to have Crittenberger expand his base in the Po Valley and cross the Panaro River north of Bologna before the enemy could reorganize there. On the left, the 1st Armored Division turned northwest along Highway 9, heading for Modena. In the center and on the right, a motorized task force of the 10th Mountain Division passed through Ponte Samoggia and advanced fifteen miles farther, seizing a bridge across the Panaro River intact. The rest of the division followed, while a steady stream of prisoners flowed to the rear. On IV Corps' right, the 85th Infantry Division relieved 10th Mountain Division rear detachments before crossing the Panaro River farther east.

In the II Corps zone, Bologna fell to the U.S. 34th Infantry Division on the morning of 21 April, but General Truscott left the city to his Italian troops and sent the 34th west toward Modena. By reinforcing the IV Corps' left flank, he hoped to isolate enemy divisions still retreating from the northern Apennines and to deny them Po River crossings west of the 1st Armored Division. Attaching the 34th Division to the IV Corps, he instructed Crittenberger to put it astride Highway 9 between the 1st Armored Division and the Brazilian Expeditionary Force. Subsequently, the 34th Division reached Modena on 23 April and continued its attack northwest along Highway 9 toward Reggio, ten miles farther. Meanwhile, the 6th South African Armored Division led the II Corps' advance to the Panaro River and on to the Po, with the U.S. 88th Infantry Division mopping up the rear areas of Axis stragglers. On their right, the 91st Division skirted the western outskirts of Bologna, captured the airport, and continued north, rapidly approaching the Panaro.

By dawn on 22 April the entire Fifth Army was well into the Po Valley. On the right flank, Axis forces attempted in vain to prevent the juncture of the Fifth and Eighth Armies, desperately trying to buy time for small detachments of their comrades to escape. But the Allied onslaught, now moving at full speed, quickly swept aside the hasty defenses erected by the 1st and 4th Parachute Divisions, overwhelming and annihilating numerous Axis rear-guard detachments in the process.

In the west, the 10th Mountain Division's spearhead reached the Po River at San Benedetto, thirty miles north of Ponte Samoggia, on the evening of 22 April. By midnight, the rest of the division had arrived' and river-crossing equipment followed. Masses of destroyed enemy materiel littered the south bank of the Po, showing the devastating effects of Allied air power. Not one bridge remained standing. As the 10th Mountain Division waited to cross, the 1st Armored Division skirted Modena over a captured Panaro River bridge four miles north of Highway 9, then moved west, reaching a southwestern loop of the Po on 23 April. The units' armored vehicles then spread out along several miles of the river's southern bank to block crossings by any remaining enemy soldiers bypassed in the headlong race for the river. The rapid American advance along the forty-mile-wide front had left many pockets of Axis soldiers, and special task forces were now created to mop up rear areas as the main Allied units pressed farther northward. Ultimately, over 100,000 Axis troops were forced to surrender in the areas south of the river.

Although the majority of the Po River bridges were destroyed, the U.S. 85th Infantry Division, like other fast-moving Fifth Army units, had been able to take many spans south of the Po intact, such as the Panaro River bridge at Camposanto, eleven miles north of Ponte Samoggia. Early on 22 April, fearing efforts of enemy rear-guard units to destroy the span, a sergeant from the division's 310th Engineer Battalion quickly plunged into the river, cut the demolition wires under enemy fire, and saved the structure from destruction. Once across, the 310th repelled an enemy attempt to retake the bridge and to hold the town. As one regiment cleared Camposanto and secured the span, another swung to the left, crossed the bridge seven miles south at Bomporto, and quickly covered the intervening twenty-four miles of territory, arriving at the Po River just before noon on 23 April 1945. The division then cleared the south bank, capturing hundreds of prisoners and much equipment in the process. Later in the day a westward shift of corps boundaries caused the 85th Division to relinquish some of its territory to the 88th Division, which had only left the Panaro River early that morning. The 85th then prepared to cross the Po River in force the next day.

By 24 April the entire Fifth Army front had reached the Po. In the west, IV Corps units advanced west, northwest, and north, pushing forward bridging equipment for an offensive across the river. In the 10th Division area, fifty M-2 assault boats enabled the unit to begin ferrying troops across at noon. Air bursts from German artillery caused some casualties, but enemy actions failed to significantly delay the crossings here or elsewhere. Once on the far bank, the 10th Mountain quickly secured its bridgehead. By 1800 hours two regiments were on the far bank, with the division's third regiment crossing during the night.

In the center of the Allied line, the II Corps reshuffled its units before crossing the Po. Keyes wanted the 88th and 91st Infantry and the 6th South African Armored Divisions to establish independent bridgeheads. On the right, the South Africans became responsible for maintaining contact with the British Eighth Army left flank, while the 91st Division moved to the center, and the 88th Division concentrated on the left. At noon on 24 April, the 88th crossed the Po River at two spots against patchy resistance, followed the next day by the 91st in the center and the South Africans on the corps right wing.

Meanwhile, as the 10th Mountain Division awaited the completion of heavier spans across the Po, other IV Corps units drove due west. On the IV Corps' left, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force protected the flank of the 34th Infantry Division, which reached Reggio, about fifteen miles west of Modena, early on 24 April. Above Modena and Reggio, 1st Armored Division task forces along the Po River's southern bank blocked all remaining escape routes. The division now prepared to put armored elements across the Po in the 10th Mountain Division's zone to protect the flank of its projected advance north into the Alpine foothills.

To take advantage of the deteriorating enemy situation and the feeble resistance along the Po River, Truscott discarded plans for a slow, deliberate river crossing, and instead issued instructions to jump the river as quickly as possible and press the attack. He wanted the Fifth Army to shift its advance northwest toward Verona, about sixty miles above Bologna in the Alpine foothills. Its capture would deepen the rupture between the German Fourteenth and Tenth Armies, block escape routes to the Brenner Pass, and breach the Adige Line before it could be fully manned.

Lack of bridging threatened to delay his plans. With no permanent spans surviving Allied air bombardments, a variety of amphibious craft, rubber rafts, wooden boats, and ferries were pressed into service to carry men and light equipment across the river. But heavy equipment had to await the construction of pontoon bridges. Since 15th Army Group plans had assumed that II Corps would be first to reach the river, the Fifth Army now had to push additional bridging for the IV Corps forward on already overcrowded roads. Nevertheless, through the efforts of Army engineers, pontoon and treadway bridges spanned the river within two days of the first crossings.

Over the next three days, 24-26 April, Fifth Army forces erupted from their Po River bridgeheads and split the Axis forces in Italy. In the center, Fifth Army divisions raced for Verona. The 10th Mountain Division started north after midnight on 24 April, and by 0945 hours the next morning had advanced twenty miles to the airport at Villafranca, just southwest of Verona. On its right, the 85th Division moved from the Po River shortly before noon on 25 April, stopping within ten miles of Verona by nightfall. Only slightly farther east, the 88th Division also started north early on 25 April, moving by foot, jeeps, captured vehicles, and bicycles, and covering the forty miles to the outskirts of Verona in just one day.

Operations on the Army's flanks continued apace. On the left, the Brazilians and the 34th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions pushed west and northwest along Highway 9 toward Piacenza on the Po River, fifty miles west of Reggio. On the right the U.S. 91st Infantry Division also began its advance north from the Po, with the South African armor on its right, heading toward the Adige River town of Legnago, ten miles farther. Verona fell on 26 April 1945 as three American divisions converged on the city. The 88th Division secured the town at daybreak after a vicious night battle. Just after dawn the forward elements of the 10th Mountain Division roared into town, followed two hours later by the 85th Division. The seizure of Verona now brought the Fifth Army up to the final Axis defensive line in Italy, fully prepared to implement Phase III of Operation CRAFTSMAN.

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Guest Darrell

According to the text above, the 1st Armored Division was between San Benedetto (April 23) and Verona (April 26). Between these two places it is likely Pasquale Gentile was KIA?d.

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Map2.jpg

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