The Italian boot

On May 31, 1944, the Santa Rosa and the Cristobal arrive at the port of Naples. The paratroopers are housed in wagons and set out for Bagnoli. On the way, Lt. Col. Rupert Graves receives orders to lead his Combat Team for an attack from Valmontone to Rome, thus participating in Operation Buffalo: the race to the Eternal City. The 517th is ready to go, but most of the Combat Team's equipment has been loaded separately from the paratroopers, and they only have their rifles. The order is thus canceled.

After nearly 13 days of rest, on June 14, the Combat Team packs up their tents and heads by truck to the island of Nisida in Naples, to await the LSTs destined for Anzio.

Long before the arrival of the 517th PRCT, the battles at Anzio had been raging for five months and ceased a few days after the unit's arrival on the continent. The forces of Marshal Albert Kesselring are in retreat. An Allied offensive launched in April to draw troops away from Normandy eventually led to the capture of Cassino. Forces advancing from the south established a link with those at Anzio and captured Rome. The German army is decisively defeated and falls back to a new line above the Arno River.

On the night of June 14-15, the destination of the LSTs carrying the 517th is changed because the Fifth Army has pushed well beyond Rome and captured several fishing ports along the coast. At noon on June 15, the LSTs drop anchor in the ravaged port of Civitavecchia.

On June 16, the RCT is attached to the 36th Division. The Combat Team is transported by truck to the heights southeast of Moscona. The next day, June 17, the paratroopers move a few kilometers northeast of the town. Lt. Col. Rupert D. Graves receives an overlay marked with zones, objectives, and phase lines. The regiment is to join the Division's northward progression from Grosseto the following day.


Grosseto is located in a floodplain formed by the Ombrone River. Crisscrossed by irrigation canals, the plain is fifteen kilometers wide at the coast and narrows to six kilometers inland. North of Grosseto, National Route 223 leads to Siena inland, and National Route 1 leads to Follonica on the coast. North of the Ombrone plain, a ridge called Colle Moscona peaks at 300 meters where it is crossed by National Route 223.

At dawn on June 18, around 06:00, the infantry battalions head northwest on National Route 223. The marching order is as follows: 1st Battalion, RHQ, 2nd and 3rd Battalions. The early morning rain has turned into a light drizzle. Around 09:00, the 1st Battalion under Lt. Col. William J. Boyle encounters heavy enemy resistance on Colle Moscona, in the form of small arms fire and machine guns. The battalion fights back while the 2nd Bn. under Lt. Col. Richard J. Seitz is ordered to flank the enemy on the right, with the 3rd Bn. under Lt. Col. Melvin Zais in reserve. Company I is sent to secure the flank on the extreme right. It encounters machine gun fire and anti-personnel mines, suffering several losses and being pinned down. By late afternoon, the resistance on Colle Moscona is eliminated.

On June 19, the Combat Team continues northward. The 2nd and 3rd Bns. advance side by side while the 1st Bn. remains in reserve. The two battalions are to advance on the hilltop village of Montorsaio, enveloping it. The 2/517th moves toward the village from its bivouac to the east and seizes the village in the evening without difficulty. On the left flank, after a night's rest between Batignano and Montorsaio, the 3rd Bn. heads toward Sticciano. As they approach the village, Company H moves through the hills, accompanied by the M10s of the 804th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The village is occupied by 14:00. By late afternoon, the battalion and the rest of the Combat Team arrive and set up defenses in anticipation of an enemy counterattack that does not materialize. The Combat Team's PC is set up a little south outside the village.

During the night of June 20-21, the regiment's PC and all the battalion areas are shelled by artillery. June 21 is spent in the same location. The companies of the 3rd Bn. fan out 1 km north of the village.

On June 22, the Combat Team is trucked to the coast. Paratroopers board starting from 11:00 am, depending on their companies, and are unloaded an hour later, 1 km south of Gavorrano. The Combat Team bivouacs on a ridge line south of Gavorrano overnight from June 22 to 23.

In the morning of June 23, the RCT crosses the Piombino valley on foot to a gathering area north of Gavorrano. They advance behind the 142nd IR, encountering no resistance except for a few enemy mortar shots in the 1st Bn. area in the morning.

By the end of the day, the 1st and 3rd Bns. move west and north to protect the right flank of the 2nd Bn. in preparation for the entry into Follonica the next day. Around 5:00 pm, the companies of the 1st Bn. (except the Hq. Co.) advance towards the north of Follonica and will arrive early the next morning.

During the night of June 23-24, the 3rd Bn. continues on the right flank of the Combat Team and moves into the mountains of Poggio Montioni Vecchio where heavy resistance is encountered.

While the 1st Bn. holds position north of Follonica and the 3rd Bn. moves north, the 2/517th PIR sets out for Follonica following Highway #1. On June 24 at 07:30 am, the battalion enters the outskirts of the city under fire from German artillery and Nebelwerfers. The capture of Follonica is swift. In total, 5 officers and 161 enlisted men are taken prisoner. Following the capture of Follonica, the RHQ leaves Gavorano and sets up its new PC northeast of Follonica.

In the evening, on the side of the 3rd Bn., it finds itself on the right flank of the Combat Team's advance and advances under heavy defensive fire in the mountains north of Follonica. Company H captures 24 prisoners there. Around 7:30 pm, the 3rd Bn. emerges from the heights in the morning, overlooking the dry riverbed of the Cornia River. Around 9:00 pm, the 1st Bn. leaves the heights north of Follonica and regroups south of the city.

On June 25, the 1st Bn. leaves Follonica and reaches the area of the 3rd Bn. to the north. The battalion arrives in the middle of the day. Its mission is to take Monte Peloso, a hill 550 meters high located between the Cornia River and Suvereto. The attack on the hill is preceded by a powerful artillery barrage fired by the 36th Division under the direction of the 460th PFAB. Despite intense artillery fire, the 1st Bn. occupies Monte Peloso and remains there overnight, subjected to incessant artillery fire.

In the morning, the Combat Team's PC moves from north of Follonica to the mountains north to oversee operations on the Cornia River. It sets up in the village of Montioni.

After the capture of Monte Peloso, Lt. Col. Graves wants to attack further north, in Suvereto, but the 442nd takes over from the 517th. On June 26, the 517th Prcht. Regtl. Combat Team is relieved by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and joins the 2nd Bn. in reserve since the previous day northwest of Follonica. The 1st Bn. is relieved in the middle of the morning under artillery fire. The 3rd Bn. leaves its position and rejoins Follonica a little earlier in the morning. The entire Combat Team is thus bivouacked near Follonica. Placed in reserve of the IV Corps, it remains behind the front until early July 1944.