- Historic Sites
The Jump Into Sicily
“For This Challenge, I Had Come Three Thousand Miles and Thirty-six Years of My Life”
April/May 1978 | Volume 29, Issue 3
By now no more wounded were coming back. A heavy pall of dust and acrid smoke covered the battlefield. I decided it was time to counterattack. I wanted to destroy the German force in front of us and to recover our dead and wounded. I felt that if I could do this and at the same time secure the ridge, I would be in good shape for whatever came next—probably a German attack against our defenses at daylight, with us having the advantage of holding the ridge. Our attack jumped off on schedule: regimental clerks, cooks, truck drivers, everyone who could carry a ride or a carbine was in the attack. The Germans reacted, and their lire increased in intensity. Just about two hundred yards from the top of the ridge Swingler crawled up on a cut through which the paved road ran and saw a German Tiger tank with the crew standing outside looking at it. He dropped a grenade among them and killed them, and thus we captured our first Tiger. There were several bazooka hits on the front plate with holes about the size of one’s little finger, but they went in only about an inch or so. The sloped armor on the Tiger was about four and a half inches thick. Soon we overran German machine guns, a couple of trucks, and finally we captured twelve 120-mm. Russian mortars, all in position with their ammunition nearby and aiming stakes out. They were obviously all ready to fire. Apparently our men had either killed, captured, or driven off the German crews. The attack continued, and all German resistance disappeared, the Germans having Oed from the battlefield.
That same night, learning that the Germans had completely withdrawn from the action at Biazza Ridge, I moved my command post from the top of the ridge hack about a half mile under the olive trees. I deployed the troopers for the night, expecting an attack from the direction of Biscari to come into our right flank, probably at daylight.
It must have been about ten o’clock at night when all hell broke loose in the direction of the beaches. Antiaircraft (ire was exploding like fireworks on the Fourth of July, tracers were whipping through the sky, and as we were observing the phenomena, the low, steady drone of airplanes could be heard. They seemed to be flying through the Oak and coming in our direction. Everyone began to grasp his weapons to be ready to shoot at them. A few of us cautioned the troopers to take it easy until we understood what was going on. Suddenly at about six hundred feet the silhouettes of American C-47’s appeared against the sky—our own parachute transports! Some seemed to be burning, and they continued directly overhead in the direction of GeIa. Some troopers jumped or fell from the damaged planes, and at daylight we found some of them dead in front of our positions.
Later we learned that it was the 504th Parachute Infantry that was being flown to a drop zone near GcIa to reinforce the 1st Infantry Division. General Ridgway had been there to meet them. Unfortunately, the Germans had sent in parachute reinforcements on the British front to the east the same night. In addition, there had been German air attacks on our Navy, so when the parachute transports showed up, our ships Ared at them, and twenty-three were shot down and many damaged.
Soon the battlefield was quiet. I dug a foxhole and lay down. The next thing I knew, the bright warm sun was shining in my face and it was broad daylight. Everybody around me was sleeping soundly in the foxholes. We had been so exhausted by the experience we had been through since our landing that we were all physically worn out. I started to get up and found that my left leg was stiff and sore. My trouser leg was slightly torn, and my shinbone was red, swollen, and cut a bit. I must have been nipped by a mortar fragment the day before. I went to the nearest aid station; they put on some sulfa powder and I was as good as new. They said they would put me in for a Purple Heart. I said nothing about it—I had already learned that among twenty-four-hour veterans, only goof-offs got Purple Hearts.
I then began to get the battalion organized for the move to our regimental objective near GeIa. But the first order of business was to take care of our dead and wounded. We brought in fifty bodies and, using picks and shovels we had sent for, we buried them near the top of the ridge. We tried to use German POW’s to dig the graves, but they were not very helpful. The regimental chaplain made wooden crosses out of K-ration boxes, and we gave the troopers an appropriate burial. It had been a sad experience: many of them had had pieces of bazookas ground up in them by tanks as they were crushed. We had also lost more than one hundred wounded.
As General Gavin learned years later, his hard, grim fight on Biazza Ridge was more important than he could have known at the time. The commander of the Hermann Goering Division, Major General Paul conrath, had his troops perfectly positioned on the night of July 9. In fact, had he been aware of the Allied plans, he could not have been better situated. He was about twenty-five miles from the disembarkation beaches of the American 1st and 45th divisions, ready to strike promptly when he learned where the invaders were coming ashore .
Many of the wind-scattered paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne, including Gavin’s 505th Regiment, drifted down between the Germans and the Allied troops who were landing on the beaches. Thus, when Conrath tried to push the Allies back into the sea, he found his communication lines cut, and his troops harassed and pounced upon by American paratroopers .