See also main article on Mount Majo
The FSSF had arrived in Italy on 19 November 1943 to find that General Mark Clark's U.S. 5th Army was readying an offensive on the mountains below Monte Cassino, and received praise for its work in securing Monte la Difensa and Monte la Remetanea at the start of December. The Force was pulled back to Santa Maria for a rest, having been reduced to fewer than 1,400 men.1
The Force began training for new missions on 17 December while the 5th Army's efforts to close up to the Gustav Line continued. On 20 December the British X Corps began its own advance to the Garigliano River and the FSSF received orders to move to Ceppagna and prepare to seize Monte Vischiataro (Hill 1109) and the adjacent heights.2 The first act in the battle was the seizing of Hill 720, accomplished on 23 December by the 1st Regiment of the FSSF on 25 December.3
The capture of Hill 720 effectively ended the first phase of the 5th Army's Winter Line operations. On 1 January 1944, the 5th Army announced the objective of the third phase: closing on the line of the Rapido River. The task assigned to the FSSF by the 2nd U.S. Corps remained the securing of high ground on the Corps' right and capture of Mount Vischiataro and its surrounding peaks.4
The Force was to be aligned as originally organized before the battle of Hill 720; the 3rd Regiment was to secure a northern route to Mount Vischiataro, travelling over the barren hills on the right of the line. The 1st Regiment was to proceed to the notch at Forcella del Moscoso (Height 708) and support the 3rd Regiment. The 2nd Regiment was to split its battalions as it had at Hill 720, with No. 1 and No. 3 Companies attached to the 3rd Regiment for stretcher bearer and supply duties (respectively) while No. 2 Company provided both services to the 1st Regiment. The 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment was to reduce Hill 724 and secure an advance command post at Radicosa two nights prior to the 3rd Regiment's assault.5
Prisoners taken in the hill 720 fighting revealed that the Germans in the line from San Vittore to Radicosa were from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 71st Panzergrenadier Regiment. Behind them, two regiments of the Austrian 44th Infantry Division had just arrived at the front.6
Clearing the Way
The 3rd Regiment moved out into a snowstorm just after sun-up on 1 January in order to establish a bivouac south of Monte Corno Vesse. The 2nd Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Bourne) was to move left toward 850 from there, and the 1st Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Gilday) was to move right and clear the saddle running north-east from Hill 957. The 2nd Regiment began patrolling Hill 702 (also called Hill 724), received an issue of cold weather gear, and planned for an attack at 09:00hrs on 2 January, past Radicosa, bypassing it in order to seize 702. The attack was postponed later on 1 January, as was the 3rd Regiment's assault; they pitched their tents, and tried to dig in. Both regiments were told to wait for 24 hours to establish better communications.7
Capture of Radicosa
See also main article on Radicosa
The 2nd Regiment bypassed Radicosa, surprising troops on Hill 702/724, and captured it, precipitating a German withdrawal. The Germans in Radicosa pulled back to the northwest.8 By noon on 4 January, the 1st Regiment occupied the handful of buildings in Radicosa (five houses and a church), which had been a priority in order to build forward supply dumps for the continued advance. Mines and demolitions charges left by the Germans were de-fuzed in the houses and on the trails, and hold-outs on Hill 675 were eliminated. Further patrols confirmed the enemy had indeed withdrawn. The stage was set for the attack on Majo itself.9
Situation on 4 January and Organization of Task Force B
The 3rd Regiment had spent 4 January expanding their own gains and sending patrols out, linking up with the U.S. 45th Division of the 6th U.S. Corps on their right at Colle Rippa, the regiment actually operating inside the 6th Corps boundary. One company was south of Viticuso and patrols from other companies had approached 1,200 yards east of Monte Majo without encountering the enemy. Companies also occupied Hill 914 and Colle Stefano without seeing organized resistance.10
The mission of the FSSF was to protect the flank of the 2nd U.S. Corps and the 1st Armored Division attempting to advance up Highway 6; the ultimate objective was to clear Mt. Vischiataro, but the Force's commander, Colonel Robert T. Frederick, felt that Mount Majo had to be taken first to permit an attack on Vischiataro. The corps commander expanded Frederick's command by creating Task Force B, and adding the 133rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Division Artillery, and engineer and medical units to Frederick's control.
See also main article on Mount Majo
With gale force winds blowing on 6 January and temperatures dropping to nearly 0°F (-17°C), the depleted 3rd Regiment set off on its mission to attack Mount Majo. Silhouetted against the snow and in bright moonlight, the regiment attacked through the night of 6-7 January and seized the heights, wresting them from the Hoch-und-Deutschmeister Division.
Attack on Vischiataro
As the main assault on Mount Majo went in on the evening of 6 January by Colonel Walker's 3rd Regiment, the 1st Regiment under Colonel Marshall was in position after dark on the western portion of Colle Stefano, and 90 minutes after the 3rd Regiment had moved off, the 1st Regiment started moving north and west at 21:30hrs. Their objective was two and a half miles away, over rocky and hilly terrain, with no tracks to follow. The column was machine-gunned before they had gone a mile. The Germans were deployed in an area not shown on the maps, a reverse slope which was not possible to flank. The 1st Regiment was obliged to mount a frontal assault. It took six hours to work forward, the snow silhouetting the assaulting men, trying to reach the first rise below Hill 1109, but five machine-gun bunkers were eliminated, as well as "satellite snipers" and fourteen prisoners were taken, and as well "many Germans were killed in the action." The Germans were deployed in depth, however, and the 1st Regiment was slowly whittled down, and before dawn a withdrawal back to San Stefano was ordered.11
Colonel Frederick reassessed the situation; the bald heights with an enemy battalion atop it was properly attacked from above. With Majo in the hands of the FSSF, assaulting from higher ground was clearly the best possibility. It was also clear that the assaulting force would need to be reinforced over one regiment to permit a proper follow-through. On 7 January, the 1st Regiment joined the 3rd on the heights of Majo, where it was then ordered to attack Hill 1270 to the west. It could then attack straight south towards Vischiataro. The 3rd Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment was placed at the disposal of the 1st Regiment to follow-up and occupy the heights of 1270.
The new attack started at dusk, the men tired, the snow deeper, and with no one having much idea of what strength the Germans had on 1270. Company L of the 133rd were dispatched ahead of the Force in view of the fatigue of the men. By midnight, both battalions of the 1st Regiment were waiting in the valley between Hills 1270 and 1109 while L Company advanced. A firefight ensued between the veteran troops of the 133rd and a German outpost, and then word came back that the hill was in American hands, with "negligible resistance." Company L reported it would occupy the height while the 1st Regiment moved on Vischiataro with its rear secure.