Post Armistice extract from a local Italian newspaper in Bert's collection - November 1918

 

 

SAN VITO al TAGLIAMENTO - LA VOCE DEL TAGLIAMENTO

 

 

 

 

OUR MARCH (An account of US 332nd Infantry Regiment's part in the final advance)

 

 

One night an order came to prepare to march at once. We started to prepare, but as is usual when one has been on his mettle for several days, prepared for something, we were not prepared to march when the order came. But, we got there. We marched at 10:40pm. We were at last on our way into action, the thing we had looked forward to for more than a year.

 

We marched until about 4:00 the next morning and halted. We were awaiting orders again. We waited there right in the road. We waited there until five in the afternoon and then they came. “Move into the field and camp”. We did it for two days and a half. The British had attacked across the Grave di Papadopoli with success, which had been followed up by the Italians on the right and other British forces on the left. The river had been bridged the day we had marched from our billets, but just as traffic had gotten well under way across it, some German aviators had shown up and with a good aim and better luck they had made a direct hit on the bridge with a bomb and made a new one necessary. The new one was put in and we were on our way again.

 

 

We reached the Piave at this point October 31 and crossed it. It was during these few days of marching and camping that we saw our first lessons in the difficulties of handling traffic in the zone of action., especially during an advance. At this point this was the only bridge across the Piave for miles and all the forces with their supplies for the pursuit had to cross here in addition to the prisoners, wounded and exhausted forces returning. It took us ten hours to make four kilometres over this crowded road. The kilometre or two covered by the different branches of the Piave was about the most difficult road we have had at any time during the campaign. The sands were very soft and our wagons sank deep in it making the crossing hard and slow for both men and animals. The few dead lying around the trenches on the islands and in the shell holes shows that there had been some resistance, and the shallow cover trenches facing the east showed the line of a British halt to await supports and the recession of the Piave which had threatened to put a halt  to the operations by rising and making a crossing impossible.

 

We reached the east bank of the river at dusk. In the village of Cimadolmo we saw the beginnings of the ravages of war. Buildings were gutted by shells. Every little home was deserted. Not an inhabitant remained. In the twilight it was a spectral village. Such sights, although common in war zones, always appeal to the man of just inclinations. No matter whose shells did the damage, the invader was the man out of place and the responsible party. Although tired and interested in little but bed, the men showed their resentment by frequent oaths of condemnation. The resentment growing as tiring night marching prolonged. There is nothing quite as tiring as marching with a heavy pack on one’s back over shelled roads in darkness. We reached Vazzuolo at about nine o’clock at night. Supper and bed and we were up again waiting orders. We marched at eleven in the morning for Gajarine. We met a train of motor lorries and were overtaken by a regiment of cavalry at the same time. That’s hell. No road was made for three columns, not if you are the foot column.

 

At the Monticano river, a small but high diked stream, the Austrians had attempted a strong rear guard action. The British had been their foes and they had picked the wrong opponent. Dozens of dead in the Austrian field-grey lay in the fields and in the road’s side ditches; and the civilians living near-by pointed out a fresh mound and said it held two hundred Austrian dead. At every turn in the road a pair of Austrians lay dead in the ditches, the crews of resisting machine guns. More horses were dead than men. They were mounts of the pursuing cavalry and mount of the fugitives killed by bombs from the airplanes of the allies. We went into camp east of Gajarine a short distance, after dark again. The last few kilometres of this march were hard, the men tired and on iron rations. The rest was short lived. At one o’clock in the morning we were called out again. The regiment was to form the advance guard for the Tenth Army of which we were a part. The first detachments were to leave at two, the remainder of the regiment to march at two- thirty; two – thirty A.M. The bridge over the Livenza at Varda  had been destroyed. A temporary foot bridge which could accommodate only one file had replaced it. To march a regiment over a river in a column of files is a test of patience. At best it is a great inconvenience, but we went over. At about seven in the morning we halted again to wait orders. The advance guard was doubled. Information of the enemy in the immediate vicinity came. Careful searching of every foot of ground that would hide a man with a gun had to be done.

 

We advanced to Prata where the bridge over the San Rocco river had been blown out and it was necessary to file across another temporary structure. Machine gun carts were dismounted and carried across; the mules swam. While halting the head of the column to permit the rear to close to a column of squads we found more evidence of the haste with which the Austrians had “tagged” destruction with them, a six inch field piece had been dragged a few hundred meters from the main route of travel and mired in a swamp. There had been no time for the destruction they predicted. They had not had time to get their means of self defense away with them. In the fields near the gun dozens of rifles were found deserted so hastily that they had not even been rendered useless. The pursuit of the Italian cavalry and the aviators had been too keen for destruction to stalk territory in Austrian hands. The march ended at Cimpello at dusk. An outpost was stationed and the advance guard brought in. There were the men who had worked. They had plodded miles over fields and streams, through hedges and bush. Some had lost their equipment or thrown away all excess of fighting tools, that they might keep up and perform their task. The following day we moved again, again the advance guard for the army, starting at early morning. At dusk we reached the banks of the Tagliamento.

 

The enemy was reported to be on the opposite bank of the river. The reports were various. They came from civilians at first then from our own patrols sent out to verify them. One patrol hunting a ford had crossed several of small channels, when the officer noticed a large number of men, in what he believed to be Italian uniforms, standing on the dike of the east bank of the stream. He continued to search noting the actions of the soldiers opposite, who were trying to signal. The patrol leader crossed all except the east channel when a voice in plain English called out “Come over here”. He crossed the remaining channel approached the man who had called him and found himself face to face with an Austrian officer who spoke English. The Austrian informed him that the war was over that an armistice had been signed. He then went to the commander of his regiment and secured a communication, from the headquarters of the Austrian Army telling of the armistice between that country and the allies. We had no notice and could not consider theirs affecting us in any way. Two battalions, the second and third of the regiment had bivouacked on a line generally paralleling the river. Both battalions met with Austrians much the same instance above

 

Our orders were to advance as the advance guard of the army. This was our purpose. We could not consider the Austrian notification of an armistice as affecting us in any way. The second battalion of the regiment was to be the advance guard the following day. At daybreak it prepared to move on. It would be necessary to drive the Austrians out of their position on the opposite bank of the river or capture them. The battalion deployed after crossing the only channel of the stream at this place, the bridge near Tabina. When the soldiers appeared on the sands of the river bed Austrian machine guns opened fire on the bridge. Tracer bullets used showed the fire to be too high. This fire continued long enough for the roads in the rear of the bridge to be cleared of the soldiers crowded there ready to cross in support. One Italian soldier was killed and a few injured by this fire. The fire was then lowered on the line of Americans in the sand of the river bed. The fire was so intense it would have been impossible to have advanced against it. Artillery shelling was called for against the machine guns. The Italians artillery opened and soon silenced almost all of the machine gunners. A few were still firing when the order for the advance was given. The men of this battalion did not hesitate to go forward against this fire. They advanced to the river dikes and then the Austrians who manned the position saw it would take a hand to hand fight to hold it and fled. The greater number of the wounds were received as the men lay under hastily improvised or natural cover awaiting the results of the artillery bombardment and were in the feet and legs which were exposed. The battalion took the position and advanced to Codroipo about 5 kilometers beyond. The remainder of the regiment was following when news of the armistice arrived through our own sources. The conditions were such that an advance was considered unnecessary and the regiment went into camp near the bridge on the west side of the river. This was the only fighting any part of the regiment did. It was small and unimportant, but demonstrated the men of the regiment had by their training acquired the discipline necessary for prompt advance under fire, when the order is given.

 

 

After a day and a night in camp the regiment went into billets in a nearby town to stay for a day and a night. The next day the marching started again. The first day was from eleven in the morning until four the next morning when Pozzuolo was reached. The next day we reached Lovaria. The Austrian equipment which had strewn the roads from the Piave to Pozzuolo did not now appear so frequently along the roads. The next day we marched from Lovaria to Ipplis  where three days rest were spent. The march was then taken up again. A day took us to Cormans in what was Austrian territory before the war, Austrian in name , but only in name, for almost every house bears an Italian flag and almost every person met speaks only Italian. At this place we began to find stores of ammunition of which the capture prevented them being used on us or our allies. As we entered Cormans we saw the remains of the equipment of some regiment certain of capture and in fear of having its own weapons used against it no doubt. Machinegun parts, ammunition for rifle, for machinegun, for cannon, rolling kitchens, office supplies, everything known to an organisation conceived for “destruction”. Its own destruction, the destruction it had threatened to the homes of the Italians of the seized territory and those Italians themselves, the greatest destruction from the Piave east to Trieste and to the end of the territory any part of this army may have gone, except at the very banks of the Piave itself, the greatest evidence of destruction this army has performed is upon its own tools of destruction, not only in this roadside dump the length of a division or regiment which ever it may have been, we have not followed its trail to the other end to make a guess, but also in the bottom of every stream from the Piave to the Tagliamento and every ditch in the same territory which are literally lined with these tools.

We have gone on to the east. The word has reached us that the arch-destructionist has met the same fate, we helped in our own little way to force upon the smaller puppets of his kennel. We believe the action of the forcer, of which we have been a part with all our inconveniences to them, was the immediate cause, the occasion of that word, equal to unconditional surrender, coming. If our limitations of an army corps hastened the end of destruction, did any part of it put fear in the destroyers, we are satisfied. If  there is no glory in action for us, we shall claim glory for having been part of the Tenth Italian Army, if it is denied for that, because of our part was so small; then we shall claim it for being the unique regiment of the war. 

 

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