85th Infantry Division in World War II
The 85th Infantry Division in World War II

The 339th Infantry Service Record:
The Battle of Tremensuoli

Promptly at 11:00 P.M., every available artillery piece in Fifth Army opened a deafening barrage on the Gustav Line. The continual blasts shook the ground. "It was pitch dark," recalled one veteran of E Company, "but in fifteen minutes you could see to pick up a needle out there." White phosphorus shells slammed into the German positions and flares filled the night sky as hundreds of GI's stepped off toward the German line. The air was filled with machine gun and mortar fire. The Germans manning the positions were determined to hold onto their lines and depended on the thousands of mines and wire entanglements stretched over the hills to halt the Polar Bear attack. The columns made their way through no-man's land and into dense mine fields filled with "S" and shue mines. Soldiers were killed and maimed in most horrible manners, but the leaders kept the squads moving toward their objectives.

Attack on the Gustav Line
The 339th left their assigned line of departure at promptly 11 P.M. (2300 hours)
The 1st Battalion troops swept toward Domenico Ridge where one platoon of C Company succeeded in reaching the crest. A Company moved toward Scauri and into the outskirts of the village. The 2nd Battalion moved out with E Company headed toward Hill 58, F Company toward enemy positions on Intermediate Ridge, and G Company onto Hill 79. Meanwhile the 3rd Battalion moved through Tremensuoli and out towards the crossing of Capo d' Acqua. Enemy mortar teams had the crossing zeroed in and temporary bridges carried by members of L Company, the assault company, were quickly knocked out. The steep banks of the stream and the swiftly moving water bogged down the wading GI's loaded with equipment. K Company followed up in the attack with the objective of moving onto Hill 66 while L Company assaulted 69. In the darkness and confusion, men became separated from their commands and only a few GI's remained to continue the attack once across the stream which was now filled with bodies.

The fighting was close and bloody. The 3rd Battalion lost almost 66% of its effective fighting force within the first 10 hours of the battle. Unable to take their objective of Hill 66, the battalion withdrew to Hill 69 and held on throughout the 12th. The 2nd Battalion was pinned down west of Tremensuoli though G Company had successfully taken a portion of Hill 79, a fortified hill in teh center of that section. Not far away was Intermediate Ridge, held by F Company while E Company lay scattered among the draws and ridges further south. A 48-hour stalemate ensued, though concentrated enemy counterattacks on F Company proved to be too much and the company capitulated the following morning. The 3rd Battalion was withdrawn from Hill 69 overnight and relieved by the 1st Battalion, 337th Infantry after midnight of May 12th. The 1st/337th attacked Hill 66 and though they gained a brief foothold, only a few GI's could hold out on the enemy held hill.

Tremensuoli from Capo d Acqua
Tremensuoli on the far hill from the crossing site at Capo di Acqua.
(National Archives)
By the morning of May 14, the battle had been underway for over 60+ hours and the situation was grim in the center of the Polar Bear line. Cut off and still surrounded on Hill 79, G Company was running low on ammunition, water, and supplies. On this day, 2nd Lt. Robert Waugh knocked out two enemy-held pill boxes that blocked the trail up to the company positions. His action wiped out the last main German resistance on the hill that Company G had held since May 11 and the GI's consolidated their hold on the hill. Vigorous patrols and aggressive attacks by the 1st Battalion, 339th Infantry knocked out more enemy positions and the line was weakening. A recommitted 3rd Battalion, 339th Infantry, pushed over Intermediate Ridge and recovered lost territory, including a number of GI wounded left on teh field since the opening of the assault. The enemy line was showing weaknesses with abandoned positons being discovered and prisoners coming in, shell-shocked, exhausted and hungry. All along the Gustav Line, German forces were running low on ammunition, food and water. The combination of allied artillery, aerial bombardment, and determined attacks by the American II Corps was more than the German soldiers could stand. The last German elements still holding positions on CS San Martino began to pull out overnight, leaving behind a token holding force and those who could not be reached to extract. By early morning of May 16, the Battle of Tremensuoli was over.

A Co. in Scauri
GI's from A Company, 339th Infantry enter Scauri looking for snipers on 16 May 1944.
(85th Division in WW2)
The 1st Battalion moved into Scauri on May 16, retook Hill 58 and cleared the Domenico Ridge positions east of the village. There they consolidated until the remainder of the regiment could secure their positions and be brought forward. Re-enforced by a tank battalion, forward elements of the division moved northward parallel to Highway 7 while the 339th Infantrymen took a four hour break around the small village. The regiment received a compliment of replacements and soon set out, leaving behind the shattered remains of what once was a well-trained regiment. Tremensuoli was the battle where the 339th proved its mettle yet paid a high price in lives to take important objectives.

The survivors of this battle never forgot it, or the sacrifice of so many of their friends. For many it was a shock that never seemed to fade from their memories. Over fifty years later, W. D. "Bud" Bammer who led the weapons platoon of K Company, vividly recalled his experiences. He was not the only Polar Bear who remembered those terrible days as being the real test of the regiment. In 1992, veterans of that great battle returned to the small village of Tremensuoli to dedicate a monument to those past and present who gave their all on that almost forgotten battlefield of the "Forgotten Front".

US troops approach Itri
GI's of the 88th Infantry Division approach Itri.
German resistance was sparse and daylight movement was un-impeded by ground fire until the riflemen got within a mile of the town. The 88th and 85th Divisions closed around the village and surrounding mountains on May 19.

(US Signal Corps Collection, National Archives)
After the fall of the main defenses of the Gustav Line, the 85th Infantry Division moved northwest into the mountains toward the next line of German defenses called the Hitler Line. To get there, the Polar Bears had to move on to Formia and then set out toward the small town of Itri. The ancient village of Itri sits at the base of Mount Orso from which enemy artillery observers had a perfect view of the allied line of approach. The 339th Infantry and infantry from the 88th Division marched toward the city, with the Polar Bears arriving first. The 2nd Battalion closed into the outskirts of the city when they were attacked by a large force including German tanks supported by artillery. Pinned down under an intense fire, F Company was overextended on the southern approach. Supporting riflemen of G Company, taking shelter from the intense fire in several bombed out buildings, were ordered to go forward and support the Custermen under fire. While attempting to gather and move his platoon forward, Lt. Robert Waugh was killed by a shell blast from one of the enemy tanks. The lieutenant died without ever knowing of his nomination for the Medal of Honor. After two hours of intense fighting and saturating fire support from allied artillery, Itri fell into the hands of the 339th Infantry. The allied bombardment and German demolitions had nearly destroyed the town. Engineers went to work bulldozing away the rubble to re-open Highway 7 through the town.

339th troops near Itri
German POW's are marched back through a rifle company weapons platoon of the 1st Battalion, 339th Infantry outside of Itri, 19 May 1944.
(US Signal Corps Collection, National Archives)
2nd Battalion troops in Itri
2nd Battalion, 339th Infantry troops in Itri near the town square, 20 May 1944. The was reduced to rubble from allied air bombardment and artillery.
(85th Division in WW2)

After the fall of Itri, the 85th Division moved northward into the mountains east of the flooded Pontine Marshes and directly against the much vaunted "Hitler Line". Allied forces drawing from the east flanked key enemy positions while Combat Team 9 marched uphill against heavy resistance. At Sonnino, the 339th won a brilliant victory, wiping out the German garrison with the loss of only two men wounded. The surprise victory at the small town opened the way for the division advance adjacent to Highways 7 and 6. More mountains followed, including Mount San Angelo where the regiment was pinned down under heavy fire and suffered losses during a night withdrawal. After 30+ days in continual combat, the Polar Bear regiment finally found itself on the outskirts of Rome. A task force from the 339th's Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon was ordered into Rome to secure bridges over the Tiber River. The GI's made their way into the city and finally located the bridges which had already been taken. The Custer Division consolidated south of the city that night and the next day, June 5, 1944, the 339th was finally ordered to march through the eternal city- Rome!

Casualties in the 339th Infantry 11 May to 6 June 1944:
240 killed, 709 wounded, 167 missing, 34 taken prisoner.

Rome & the Arno RiverOn to the Arno!


Custer Division The 85th Infantry Division in World War II
The Unofficial Webpages of the Polar Bear Association of World War II:
Veterans of 339th Infantry, 910th FA Bn, 310th Engineer Bn, & 310th Medical Bn

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