History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

MARKET-GARDEN Sep 44

(Arnhem)

BERLIN Nov 1944

(Nijmegen)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Bazentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

Flers-Courcelette

15-22 Sep 16

Thiepval

26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Cambrai, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

Mount Majo

Mount Majo was a Battle Honour granted to the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, which was the administrative name of the Canadian component of the Canadian-American 1st Special Service Force.

The organization and history of the First Special Service Force is described in a separate article on this website. In brief, this unique Canadian-American force had been created in 1942 to undertake hazardous missions, and received training in parachute training, winter warfare, and amphibious operations. After deployment to the Aleutians, the Force was sent to the Italian theatre for use as alpine troops. The men of the Canadian component, administratively referred to as the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, was intermingled throughout the FSSF, many in command positions, and generally making up about 1/3 the total combat strength of the Force's combat strength. The Force was commanded by U.S. Army Colonel Robert T. Frederick, an American (promoted to Brigadier-General at the end of January 1944), with Lieutenant-Colonel D.D. Williamson, as senior Canadian and commander of the 2nd Regiment until replaced following Hill 720. Canadians in fact commanded five of the six battalions in the Force on disembarkation in Italy.

Battles of the FSSF

Monte CaminoMonte la Difensa-Monte la Remetanea
Hill 720Monte MajoRadicosaMonte Vischiataro –  Anzio – Rome – Advance to the Tiber – Monte Arrestino – Rocca Massima – Colle Ferro

Background

The FSSF had arrived in Italy on 19 November 1943 to find that General Mark Clark's U.S. 5th Army was readying an offensive on the mountains below Monte Cassino. The Germans had fortified the chain of heights northeast from Camino-Difensa halfway across Italy as an additional barrier to Allied forces attempting to break through to Rome. While the main defensive line, the Gustav Line, was formidable, the additional fortifications at Camino-Difenso (the "Winter Line") were intended as an additional delay. The First Special Service Force was praised for its work in securing Monte la Difensa and Monte la Remetanea at the start of December. The Force was pulled back to Santa Maria for a rest, having been reduced to fewer than 1,400 men.1

The Force began training for new missions on 17 December, and rumours were rife, including Mount Cairo and even Monte Cassino. Training focused on the necessity for fighting in small groups. As they trained, the 5th Army's efforts to close up to the Gustav Line continued, and the 36th Division launched attacks on high ground straddling Highway No. 6, attempting to take both Mount Sammucro (Hill 1205) and Mount Lungo (Hill 351). Some of the fighting in this area was chronicled in the documentary The Battle of San Pietro. The division had advanced just beyond San Pietro on 16 December, and on 20 December the British X Corps began its own advance to the Garigliano River. The same day, the FSSF received orders to move to Ceppagna and prepare to seize Monte Vischiataro (Hill 1109) and the adjacent heights.2

While the 3rd Regiment, tasked for the Vischiataro assault, began its preparations to move, reports were received from patrols on Sammucro of German hold-outs on Hill 720, which were overlooking the start line for the 36th Division's own operations. Hill 720 was assigned as an intermediary objective to the 1st Regiment of the SSF, and after a delayed start to the operations originally scheduled for 23 December, was taken in an attack by the 1st Regiment on 25 December at a cost of 65 killed and wounded, with 12 further casualties to a reinforcing company of the 2nd Regiment.3


Click to enlarge

Morale among the Forcemen at the end of 1943 was tested by the knowledge their special skills - parachute training, amphibious training, demolitions - were not being used to any great advantage, and that they were being employed for the most part as regular infantry. The Canadian contingent, which kept its own war diary, was specifically critical on that point. They were also handed a severe blow to their morale when the senior Canadian of the Force, Lieutenant-Colonel Don Williamson was ordered to leave on New Year's Day 1944. Williamson had commanded the 2nd Regiment since the early days of the FSSF in Montana, but after the battle at la Difensa, a number of officers went to Colonel Frederick to express a lack of confidence in him.

The 2nd Regiment, badly depleted at la Difensa, the Force's first combat action, had been used as support for the other two regiments in the actions since. Frederick canvassed members of the regiment for signed affidavits to back up the claims that Williamson was unfit for command. A number of statements were provided, by the following:

  • Captain E.O. Olson (American, intelligence officer)

  • Staff Sergeant K.R.S. Meiklejohn (Canadian, intelligence cell)

  • 1st Lieutenant W.S. Story (Canadian, recently promoted from the ranks, intelligence cell)

  • Major Walter Gray (American, Executive Officer of the 2nd Regiment at la Difensa)

  • Sergeant C.F. Rigg (American, serving at 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment headquarters)

  • Lieutenant-Colonel R. Moore (American, commanding the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Regiment)

Armed with the information supplied by Williamson's subordinates, Frederick filled out a confidential report at the Canadian Army's administrative base at Avellino on 30 December. Frederick had concluded that Williamson did not command the confidence of the men in his regiment, based on the statements which spoke of nervousness under fire. Williamson filed a response per protocol on 2 January and underwent a psychological examination. No enquiry was conducted, and the Canadian Army concluded that Williamson had lost the confidence of subordinates and superiors alike; any officer deemed unfit for a command was by regulation to be returned directly to Canada rather than retained overseas. On 12 January, Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Akehurst was named as senior Canadian, and the official word was given that Williamson was suffering from ulcers. On 14 January, a number of affidavits were collected from among Canadian officers in defence of the sacked Williamson and delivered to Avellino. The testimony sat on a desk for ten days as Williamson went into transit back to the U.K. on the first leg of his journey home to Canada, and then the affidavits were destroyed. The departure of Williamson put the 2nd Regiment into the hands of Moore, with Major Stan Waters (a Canadian) as his Executive Officer.4

The capture of Hill 720 effectively ended the first phase of the 5th Army's Winter Line operations, sealing the right flank of the U.S. 34th Division, moving towards San Pietro Infine, and assisting the movement of the 1st Armored Division as it prepared to assault Mount Lungo. On 1 January 1944, the 5th Army announced the objective of the third phase of its current operations: closing on the line of the Rapido River. The task assigned to the FSSF by the 2nd U.S. Corps was identical (word for word) to that assigned previously on 20 December, to secure high ground on the Corps' right while seizing Mount Vischiataro and its surrounding peaks. The 34th Division and 1st Armored Division were to sweep the low-lying hills north of Highway 6 and push down the valley toward the Rapido. On the left of the 2nd Corps, the British 10th Corps was expected to keep abreast, its own left flank on the Mediterranean.5


Lieutenant W.H. Langdon, carrying full kit, photographed in front of the casualty clearing station at Le Noci, north of Venafro, in January 1944. Visible are the special mountain trousers the Force was issued. He is also equipped with winter shoe-pacs and a packboard for carrying supplies. LAC photo

Force Plan

The Force was to be aligned as originally organized before the battle of Hill 720; the 3rd Regiment was to secure a northern route to Mount Vischiataro, travelling over the barren hills on the right of the line. The 1st Regiment was to proceed to the notch at Forcella del Moscoso (Height 708) and support the 3rd Regiment. The 2nd Regiment was to split its battalions as it had at Hill 720, with No. 1 and No. 3 Companies attached to the 3rd Regiment for stretcher bearer and supply duties (respectively) while No. 2 Company provided both services to the 1st Regiment. The 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment was to reduce Hill 724 and secure an advance command post at Radicosa two nights prior to the 3rd Regiment's assault.6

Frederick talked to his regimental commanders and II Corps and put together a plan that was simple. Marshall's 1st Regiment would move west of Radicosa, on the Force's left flank, and aim at Vischiataro itself. Walker's 3rd Regiment would seize the highest ground to the right of the mountain, covering that flank of the main assault. Moore would send one battalion of his (2nd) regiment to occupy the space in between.

The plan was kept simple because the terrain was difficult and complicated. Long marches were needed to even get to the start lines, and the weather was uncommonly bad. High winds often came in the form of sudden snow squalls. There were now three inches of snow in the valleys and growing drifts in sheltered pockets above 600 metres. Above 900 metres there were five inches of snow on the ground. There were mines on the approaches and booby-traps on the trails, and these were now covered in snow. During this period in Italy, 12 of the newer T-24 "Weasel" Cargo Carriers that had been brought by the Force to Italy were taken out of their crates to aid in the transport of supplies. However less prone to mechanical breakdown, it was quickly found that mules were actually preferred to navigate the supplies over this inhospitable terrain.7

Prisoners taken in the hill 720 fighting revealed that the Germans in the line from San Vittore to Radicosa were from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 71st Panzergrenadier Regiment. Behind them, two regiments of the Austrian 44th Infantry Division had just arrived at the front.8 The 44th Division had been raised in Austria in 1943 after the original had been destroyed at Stalingrad in February of that year, and granted the honour title Reichsgrenadier Division Hoch-und-Deutschmeister.9 While there is a tendency, particularly in the various hobby press to regard any "named" Wehrmacht unit as an elite by dint of the fact it was identified by more than just a number, one history of the Force claims the 44th had special winter and mountain training before deployment to central Italy.10

Clearing the Way

The 3rd Regiment moved out into a snowstorm just after sun-up on 1 January in order to establish a bivouac south of Monte Corno Vesse. The 2nd Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Bourne) was to move left toward 850 from there, and the 1st Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Gilday) was to move right and clear the saddle running north-east from Hill 957. The 2nd Regiment began patrolling Hill 702 (also called Hill 724), received an issue of cold weather gear, and planned for an attack at 09:00hrs on 2 January, past Radicosa, bypassing it in order to seize 702. The attack was postponed later on 1 January, as was the 3rd Regiment's assault; they pitched their tents, and tried to dig in. Both regiments were told to wait for 24 hours to establish better communications.11

The remainder of the 2nd Regiment set its sights on an obscure crag called Hill 724, which was important only because it overlooked the ancient alpine village of Radicosa, which Frederick hoped to use as a forward command post for endgame operations on Majo and Vischiataro. A three-man scouting parol that had been fired upon as it crept towards Radicosa confirmed that the Germans still held this tiny community of six stone houses and a church.

As Adna Underhill later wrote, the plan was elementary: "bypass Radicosa on the north and east; take Hill 724 from the north; consolidate that high ground, then move down into Radicosa. Cold or no cold," he observed, "this was the kind of action the Force understood and enjoyed, if there's enjoyment in any military combat." And it was cold. On the night of January 3, when Moore's 2nd Regiment went into action, the Force men mounted the dark slopes of Hill 724 and climbed into weather as forbidding as the enemy.12

The weather in central Italy was challenging; at 500 metres elevation three inches of snow hampered movement while at 600 metres there was five inches of snow, and drifts, with strong winds prevailing in the valleys.

Capture of Radicosa

See also main article on Radicosa

The 2nd Regiment bypassed Radicosa, surprising troops on Hill 702/724, and captured it, precipitating a German withdrawal. The Germans in Radicosa pulled back to the northwest.13 By noon on 4 January, the 1st Regiment occupied the handful of buildings in Radicosa (five houses and a church), which had been a priority in order to build forward supply dumps for the continued advance. Mines and demolitions charges left by the Germans were de-fuzed in the houses and on the trails, and hold-outs on Hill 675 were eliminated. Further patrols confirmed the enemy had indeed withdrawn. The stage was set for the attack on Majo itself.14

 

Situation on 4 January and Organization of Task Force B

The 3rd Regiment had spent 4 January expanding their own gains and sending patrols out, linking up with the U.S. 45th Division of the 6th U.S. Corps on their right at Colle Rippa, the regiment actually operating inside the 6th Corps boundary. One company was south of Viticuso and patrols from other companies had approached 1,200 yards east of Monte Majo without encountering the enemy. Companies also occupied Hill 914 and Colle Stefano without seeing organized resistance.15

On the left of the  (3rd) Regiment's front 5 company stole onto Colle Stefano (onto the eastern knob, separated from the western hump by a slight saddle), found to everyone's surprise that no enemy was on the peak. It had been apparent for several days that this intermediate height immediately fronting the high objective would have been the ideal defense line for the Germans following their ejection from the Radicosa line. As the western height had been allotted to First Regiment no reconnaissance was pushed into that part of the hill. Meanwhile 6 Company was occupying Hills 870 and 914 without resistance. Lt John Mitchell from 4 Company took a patrol atop Hill 1065 directly overlooking the Cervaro-Viticuso mule trail and immediately under the eaves of menacing Mt. Majo. The enemy had gone.16

The 3rd Regiment had been actively trespassing in the 45th Division's area, though that formation was weary after six straight weeks of front line exposure and were "against a sheer mountain mass full of enemy" and had suffered "(r)ecent setbacks on Mt. Molino and Mt. Cavallo" and were to be relieved in six days by units of the French Corps. The mission of the FSSF was to protect the flank of the U.S. 2nd Corps, push forward, and secure high ground overlooking the projected axis of advance of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, up Highway 6 toward the Gustav Line.

Only one decision remained. Colonel Walker was directed to take his (3rd) (R)egiment against Mt. Majo. Colonel Frederick informed Corps headquarters of his decision to assault Mt. Majo, explaining that until this flanking height fell to the Force the assault on Mt. Vischiataro was tactically impossible.17

The commander of the 2nd Corps felt there were two obvious facts in evidence; all three regiments of the Force were low in strength and a sustained drive on a broad front through the mountains to Hill 1109 (Mt. Vischiataro) could not be maintained indefinitely, and the Algerian Spahi Regiment, on the right flank of the FSSF, would not be in position soon enough to rely on their taking Mt. Majo (Hill 1259) and Hill 1270 immediately beyond. These were all key heights on the road to Cassino and the FSSF was tasked with securing them. To that end, General Keyes, commanding the 2nd Corps, established Task Force B to provide additional strength to the Force. The 133d Infantry Regiment of the 34th Infantry Division, then in corps reserve, was allocated to Colonel Frederick, the First Special Service Force Headquarters was redesignated Headquarters, Task Force B. Under command came the 36th Division Artillery (relieving the 6th Armored Field Artillery Group), Company A, 19th Engineers, and Company A, 109th Medical Battalion.18

Casualties among the Forcemen had been heavy, both as a result of battle, and to weather-related conditions such as frostbite and trenchfoot. The 1st and 2nd Regiments were at half-strength, and the 3rd Regiment at two-thirds.19 Winds reached gale-force strength on 6 January as the Force hunkered down in nearly 0° temperatures (-17°C).


Colonel Walker (left), commanding the 3rd Regiment, FSSF, and Colonel Marshall (right), commanding the 1st Regiment, FSSF, photographed after 21 days of combat in the Italian mountains. U.S. Army photo

The 34th Division to the south cleared the Germans from San Vittore and patrols of the 1st Regiment took prisoners while reconnoitring a route to Hill 1109, finding the Germans had evacuated the ground between Valle dell' Ospedale and the hills west of San Stefano.

The plan of attack on Monte Majo was changed, and the 1st Regiment was to assault Monte Vischiataro simultaneous to the 3rd Regiment's attack on Monte Majo. No. 5 Company of the 3rd Regiment remained on the right-hand shelf of Stefano while the 1st Regiment moved onto the prominent western hump, tied in his flank, and prepared for a midnight advance towards Vischiataro.

Attack on Majo

At 16:00hrs No. 6 Company of the 3rd Regiment moved up to Hill 1065, the Viticuso mule track its jumping-off point, the 1st Battalion moving up the trail on its right. Contact had not been made with the German main line of resistance, as the German divisional commander had pulled the 44th Hoch-und-Deutschmeister back to high ground. The recent prisoner captures had revealed the enemy atop Majo to be the 1st Battalion, 132nd Infantry Regiment, the 2nd Battalion south behind Stefano and on Hill 1109. Further south, the 71st Panzergrenadier Regiment faced the left flank of the Force and the 168th U.S. Infantry Regiment. The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the German 132nd Infantry Regiment had about 300 men in each, equal to the fighting strength of the FSSF's 3rd Regiment, or in other words, outnumbering the FSSF units in the assault.

As soon as it was dark, men of the Force started up the Majo slope, the No. 2 Company of the 1st Battalion on the right, No. 3 Company on the left, No. 1 Company in reserve. The attack was made under a full moon and with artillery support firing from Ceppagna. The plan was to drive the 1st Battalion right at the peak and sweep the 2nd Battalion to the left, taking Hill 1259 from the west. No. 3 Company echeloned to the left rear prepatory to its flanking maneuver, and on the right, the 2nd Battalion moved up in column, prepared to take post in skirmishing formation before the objective, a mule train with additional supplied scheduled to follow on an hour later. The only resistance in the early going was scattered mortar fire, and the 1st Battalion was moving steadily by 22:00hrs. Just afterwards, light machine gun fire from half a dozen positions opened up, including guns bypassed earlier, striking the rear of the right-hand battalion. Snipers began firing tracers to indicate targets for mortarmen, and the 2nd Battalion caught the worst of the high explosive and machine-gun fires.

Stopped just short of the main defences of Mount Majo, the 1st Battalion went into action, and charged at the summit, the white snow and bright moonlight silhouetting the Forcemen. The companies managed to reach the ridgetop and begin cleaning out machine gun emplacements. The Austrians and Poles at the top had been ordered to hold the positions at all costs. No. 1 Company aided the attack by swinging to the right of No. 2 Company and reducing positions firing from the north. The 2nd Battalion had to fight uphill against a second line of ridges as the enemy withdrew, and several German machine-guns firing from southwestern knobs atop Majo cut off No. 6 Company and regimental headquarters from the main column before No. 4 Company silenced them.20

At 9:00 in the morning, in the after-battle silence that fell over the area, a patrol from 2 Company informed Colonel Walker that Majo and its main peaks had fallen but with great difficulty. Word also came from 2d Battalion that the scattered knobs around Majo were each occupied by a company. Later in the morning the spiteful enemy artillery started pounding the newly taken height. Hoch-und-Deutschmeister Division (as Hitler had designated the 44th Division) having gathered its ranks together, started to obey its suicidal orders to retake the hills. Counterattacks continued for forty-eight hours.21

Majo was taken, but it did not mark the end of the battle:

Majo rivalled Difensa as a feat of physical endurance; and, like Difensa, the capture of the peak marked the beginning of a prolonged fight. "We used up all our ammunition in the main assault," (Lieutenant-Colonel Tom) Gilday recalls, "and Jerry left his machine-guns with lots of ammunition behind, when we pushed him out, and we had to use his weapons for the next day, or even two days, before we could get resupplied from out base." He estimates that the Germans launched forty-two counter-attacks in the next few days, and the captured weapons proved to be invaluable, as was the American artillery, which responded to countless calls for assistance.22

The supply problem was acute; one regimental commander recalled having to drink melted snow for two days because of the shortage of fresh water on the mountain top.23

Mount Vischiataro

See also main article on Mount Vischiataro

Simultaneous to the attack on Majo on 6 January, the 1st Regiment moved towards Mount Vischiataro (Hill 1109). The depleted regiment had rough going, unaided by the poor maps, and despite taking out several enemy posts and obtaining several prisoners, the regimental commander turned back as the night wore on, convinced his force was too weakened to continue. The 1st Regiment moved to Mount Majo on 7 January, above Vischiataro, and with the assistance of the 133rd Infantry Regiment, attacked downhill towards Hill 1270, and then south onto Vischiataro. Hill 1270 was secured by Company L of the 133rd while Vischiataro eventually fell without a shot, as the enemy evacuated during the 7th.

Aftermath

The Force spent another week cleaning up rearguards, but for all intents and purposes its time in the Italian mountains was over. IN the words of one historian:

It had been a terrible campaign in brutally cold weather over treeless, snow-covered crags in the face of gale-like winds. Getting supplies up and casualties out required super-human effort. Frostbite was endemic. Over half the Force's strength became casualties through battle, exposure, frostbite and fatigue. The six-week campaign cost the Canadian contingent a further 70 casualties and by the end of January only 350 remained. This draining of strength was exacerbated when, under an impending reinforcement crisis, National Defence Headquarters temporarily halted the movement of Canadian replacements to the Force. It was in this weakened state that the 1st Special Service Force embarked on its next mission - Anzio.24

Battle Honours

 

The following Canadian unit was awarded the Battle Honour "Mount Majo" for participation in these actions:

  • 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion (First Special Service Force)

Notes

  1. Joyce, Kenneth H. Snow Plough and the Jupiter Deception: The story of the 1st Special Service Force and the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, 1942-1945 (Vanwell Publishing Ltd., St. Catharines, ON, 2006) ISBN 1-55125-094-2 pp.168-169

  2. Ibid, p.170

  3. Burhans, Robert D. The First Special Service Force: A War History of The North Americans 1942-1944 (Methuen Publications, Toronto, ON, 1981) ISBN 0-458-95020-1 pp.131-133

  4. Joyce, Ibid, pp.168-180

  5. Burhans, Ibid, pp.139-140

  6. Ibid, p.141

  7. Joyce, Ibid, p.185

  8. Burhans, Ibid, p.142

  9. Williamson, Gordon German Army Elite Units (Osprey Publishing Ltd., Botley, Oxford, UK, 2002) ISBN 1-84176-405-1 pp.18-19

  10. Joyce, pp.185-186, though Joyce also mentions the unit had "just moved in from the Russian Front" - the division was in fact rebuilt in Austria after the original was destroyed at Stalingrad, and performed anti-partisan duties in northern Italy before moving to the Cassino front. See also Glanz, David Slaughterhouse: The Handbook of the Eastern Front (Aberjona Press, Bedford, PA, 2005 ISBN 0-9717650-9-X p.182) which states the division was destroyed in January 1943, reformed in France in April 1943, then reconstituted as the Reichsgrenadier Division "Hoch-und-Deutschsmeister".

  11. Joyce, Ibid, p.186

  12. Nadler, John A Perfect Hell: The Forgotten Story of the Canadian Commandos of the Second World War (Anchor Canada, 2005) ISBN 978-385-66141-6 pp.145-146

  13. Burhans, Ibid, pp.143-145

  14. Ibid, p.145

  15. Joyce, Ibid, p.187

  16. Burhans, Ibid, p.147

  17. Ibid, p.148

  18. Ibid, pp.147-149

  19. Joyce, Ibid, p.187. Burhans gives the two-thirds figure for the 3rd Regiment (p.148); Joyce reports this as "three-quarters and still reporting casualties." (p.187)

  20. Burhans, Ibid, pp.150-152

  21. Ibid, p.153

  22. Dancocks, Daniel G. D-Day Dodgers: The Canadians in Italy 1943-45 (McLelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, ON, 1991) ISBN 0-7710-2544-0 p.199. Burhans and Joyce put the number of counter-attacks at 27 and "more than 25", respectively.

  23. Joyce, Ibid, p.189

  24. McKay, Donald A. Gaudeamus Igitur "Therefore Rejoice" (Bunker to Bunker Books, Calgary, AB, 2005) ISBN 1894255534 p.264


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