"Colder Than Hell, Hotter Than Texas"

By Louise A. Arnold-Friend, U. S. Army Military History InstituteJanuary 11, 2010

Aca,!A"We were told that we were to cross the Rapido and take a town of Pignataro, some distance west of the river. No 5 Paragraph Field Order was issued. You might of thought we were off on a stroll in the Park, from the mood of the occasion. We were ordered to send a detail of riflemen to guard the Battalion C.P. We should have learned something from that. We were not shown a map of our crossing area, which would have revealed that we were crossing an Aca,!EoeSAca,!a,,c bend in the river.Aca,!A? So remembered First Lieutenant John D. Goode, Company K, 141st Infantry Regiment, as the 36th Infantry Division (which had entered service in 1940 as the Texas National Guard Division) was poised to cross the Rapido River in southern Italy. Its mission was to attempt to establish a bridgehead from which to attack the German Gustav Line, which barred the Allied advance northward up the Italian peninsula. Word of the river crossing reached him on January 19, 1944, and he recorded his recollections some fifty years after he had served as company Executive Officer.

While violations of the principles of war are clearly visible in these few sentences, Goode continues his narrative about the assault itself the next day. Following engineers as their guide, Aca,!A"Aca,!A|we moved back across our access road, and down a Aca,!EoeclearedAca,!a,,c lane through the mine field running parallel to the river. I led the way, little knowing that I was like a Judas Goat, leading the sheep to slaughter! Then, Sgt. Herbert W. Cauley, of Alice, Texas, stepped on a Schu Mine. I was knocked flat on my face and stunned by the A,A1/2 lb. blast of TNTAca,!A|.Whether these Schu Mines were missed by our engineers or replanted under cover of darkness by subsequent Jerry [German] patrols I donAca,!a,,ct know. This Aca,!EoeclearedAca,!a,,c mine lane was marked by white tapes as wide as the tapes used to mark a tennis court, and would have been visible from German positions across the river. I believe they were replanted. There ought to be a camouflaged tape for marking mine lanes. White on one side only, to be reversed at night to show the white side.Aca,!A?

By the next night, January 21, another attempt was made to cross the river, this time in a Aca,!A"fogAca,!A? created by smoke pots. This second advance was delayed by a double apron of barbed wire fencing on the Aca,!A"SAca,!A? bend in the Rapido. The insertion of a Bangalore Torpedo to cut the wire obstacle generated enough noise to alert the German opponents. Their defensive fire convinced Goode that remaining in position until daybreak would be virtual suicide. In his search for a ranking officer to authorize a withdrawal, Goode walked through the cold river to reach a position of relative safety, eventually finding his way to an aid station. Once thawed out, Aca,!A"I walked back down the road to our previous position downstream of San Angelo. By that night the enormity of what had happened, and which had fulfilled my prediction had happened. Very few of our men came back to join us in our position.Aca,!A?

GoodeAca,!a,,cs full account is among thousands of others in the World War II Veterans Survey at the U.S. Army Military History Institute. Also part of this collection are copies of a great many 36th Infantry Division wartime documents, including the 141st InfantryAca,!a,,cs regimental history and after-action report of the fighting he so richly described. The report of the Rapido action concluded, Aca,!A"it would appear to be definitely established that success cannot be assured unless the following conditions are metAca,!A|accurate knowledge of enemy strength and dispositionsAca,!A|surprise in the actual crossingAca,!A|adequate crossing equipment be made availableAca,!A|all echelons be thoroughly trainedAca,!A|early penetration in depth to permit establishment of a bridgeheadAca,!A|location of mine fields on the near shore must be known and clearedAca,!A|crossing locations should provide concealmentAca,!A|crossings must be made on a broad frontAca,!A|troops must have sufficient time to gain their objectivesAca,!A|.Aca,!A?

Lessons in warfare are often at the expense of the men engaged. History can help correct this costly maxim, and sources at USAMHI are one of the ways to facilitate that learning process for soldiers and their leaders.

ABOUT THIS STORY: Many of the sources presented in this article are among 400,000 books, 1.7 million photos and 12.5 million manuscripts available for study through the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI). The artifacts shown are among nearly 50,000 items of the Army Heritage Museum (AHM) collections. MHI and AHM are part of the: Army Heritage and Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA, 17013-5021.

Related Links:

A Working Bibliography of MHI Sources: 36th Infantry Division

A Working Bibliography of MHI Sources: 141st Infantry Regiment

A Working Bibliography of MHI Sources: Rapido River

Audio/Video: "Colder than hell, hotter than Texas"