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A Perfect Hell by John Nadler

A Perfect Hell by John Nadler

Author:John Nadler [Nadler, John]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-0-307-37506-3
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Published: 2005-05-15T04:00:00+00:00

Frederick’s aggressive posture on the beachhead was accruing a body count. By the end of February, the FSSF had taken 145 prisoners and, according to Frederick, killed and wounded “a considerably larger number.” The Force may have been losing fewer soldiers, but it was hemorrhaging steadily. “We lost people every night during these raids,” an officer in 2nd Regiment admitted years later. “We were getting diminished.”

Nevertheless, it soon became clear that Frederick’s strategy was working. The enemy had identified the right-flank defenders as the FSSF. (Axis Sally, the Italian war’s version of Tokyo Rose, began to refer to them by name: “that murdering First Special Service Force.”) The Germans appeared convinced the Force was much larger than it actually was, and—more importantly—they were afraid. The proof came in writing a day after the Force’s first audacious raid on the beachhead.

Frederick had ordered 5th Company—2nd Regiment, commanded by Captain Adna Underhill, to seize the village of Sessuno. Frederick’s scheme was ambitious and set the tone for the campaign: Underhill’s men would not just attack the Germans, they would seize the village and occupy it for the night. Six days before their own counterattack, the Germans were to be forced to believe that a major Allied breakout was in the works. Under cover of artillery, Underhill’s company crossed the Mussolini Canal at Bridge 5 and marched east on each side of the main road.

The Force men edged towards their objective expecting a vicious fight. They knew a bulked-up platoon from the Hermann Göring Division, roughly the same size of a FSSF company, was garrisoned in the town. They also knew that the Germans had reserve troops in Littoria, only five kilometres away. The Force men boasted no advantage in manpower or firepower, given that the enemy had armour at its disposal. But Underhill’s raiders did enjoy the element of surprise. Worried that they would be spotted in the moonlight, most of the patrol advanced along the edge of the Allied shelling zone, a strategy that courted death from friendly fire but ensured the raiders would emerge from an area where the Germans wouldn’t be expecting them. After the Force men got underway, they found that visibility under the bright moon only extended about 200 metres, and even at that distance, if spotted by enemy sentries, they could easily be mistaken for Germans.

Sessuno was located at a crossroads. Underhill put a platoon on each flank and then assaulted the town with a third platoon of black-faced marauders the moment the Allied artillery fell silent. (Underhill had coordinated his advance with the barrage so that his men were barely thirty metres away from the German positions in Sessuno when the shelling stopped.) While two platoons on the flank, armed with Johnny guns, took on enemy machine gun nests, 2nd Platoon, commanded by Lieutenant William Ivey, from Seattle, Washington, charged up the Bridge 5-Sessuno Road. Though three mortar crews covered this advance, Ivey’s men met stiff resistance from the German gunners and mortar men who already had the road targeted.


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