Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Memorial Day Remembrance

As we commemorate those soldiers who died in war since the U.S. Civil War on this upcoming Memorial Day of May 30, 2011, I want to share a poem entitled “Just Folks”, possibly authored by Edgar A. Guest. I found it among some news paper clippings from 1943, kept by Bill’s family when he and his brother Henry went off to fight in World War Two.

It’s a touching poem which to me exquisitely captures the essence of the sacrifices made by those from both sides of  war – on the home front and in the multiple theaters of operations around the world.


Just Folks by edgar A. Guest


Although this poem is entitled “Just Folks” the actual poem with that title written by Guest is completely different. There is a public domain book by the same title and author which can be found at Project Gutenberg. “Just Folks” is the first poem in the book, but the words of the above poem cannot be found anywhere in the volume. Furthermore, nowhere can I find a Guest poem by the title “Do This”. It is possible that the news paper erroneously attributed the work. Whether or not this is a Guest poem is a mystery to me.

Here are some links for more about Edgar A. Guest and his wonderful poetry:

Sofine's Edgar Guest Collection

Academy of American Poets 

Project Gutenberg

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Establishing Bill’s Presence at Biazza Ridge


“The ALLIED airborne operation in Sicily was decisive despite widely scattered drops which must be expected in a night landing. It is my opinion that if it had not been for the allied airborne  forces (82nd) blocking the Herman Goering Armored Division from reaching the beachhead, that Division would have driven the initial seaborne forces back into the sea. I attribute the entire success of the Allied Sicilian Operation to the delaying of German Reserves (by the 82nd Airborne Division) until sufficient forces had been landed by sea to resist the counterattacks by our defending forces (the strength of which had been held in mobile reserve).”

Kurt Student General der Flieger Troops

“[Foot note:-] The above opinion was rendered at the Nuremburg Trials by General Kurt Student  foremost authority in the German army on Airborne Operations. Student commanded the German Airborne Operation on Crete and was Chief of Staff of all German Paratroops from 1943 until his capture by allied forces after the German collapse.” Source: “Saga of the All American: History of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II”, Dawson, F., 1946 page 92




General Kurt Student

Source: Wikipedia commons,_Bernhard-Hermann_Ramcke,_Kurt_Student_crop.jpg

Bill never talked directly about Biazza Ridge after the war to anyone I know of until near the end of his life. At times I tried to ask him about it, but he always shifted the discussion in other directions. There was one conversation we had when I was 11 years old which I later discovered was related to the battle. My family was visiting the Clark farm in Ohio. During a large family gathering at the farm house, Bill studied me from a distance. He noticed I was alone and bored –  there were no other kids my age around. He approached me and asked if I wanted to go for a drive to see the covered bridges in Preble County. Feeling left out, I gladly accepted.

Bill drove me around to several bridges, all of which were impressive to say the least. We pulled over inside one of them to get out and take a closer look. He really loved those bridges. Bill explained how they were constructed, their immense age, associated maintenance issues, and what a treasure they were to the local community. He told me that he would often go out to one and just sit there to relax and reflect.

After that he fell silent and his eyes drifted. Out of nowhere he started talking anxiously and quickly as if verbalizing an “always on” continuous stream of conscious thought. He spoke mainly of rifle bullets and explosives. He described what a bullet from a 306 rifle can do to a man even from long distances. He gave graphic, detailed descriptions of what can happen to somebody when hit by a high explosive round from a German 88mm gun at close range. It was all stunning to hear. Seeing the torment on his face, I wanted to say something to help ease his pain. Having no way to relate to him, I just quietly listened. Years later the realization dawned that that was exactly what he wanted. I remember feeling deeply saddened for him. To see a person instantaneously turn into a “pink cloud” as Bill put it,  is too great a burden for any man to bear and retain his sanity – which by some miracle he was able to do.

His letter to his sister Doris gives a tantalizing clue that Bill might have fought in the Biazza Ridge battle. From it, we can at least tell that his battalion was in the battle and that therefore, he could have been there. The battalion Bill refers to was sometimes called the 505th Regimental Headquarters Battalion which included the Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Service Company, and the Medical Detachment. Personnel from that unit fought at Biazza Ridge. We already know that his steps can be traced from where he actually landed to the direction of his original drop zone, which cuts through Biazza Ridge. But the question remains: was he there?

On November 4, 2005, I interviewed Bill’s older brother, Henry Clark about Bill’s war time experiences. Henry served with the US army air corps 47th Liaison Squadron as a mechanic stationed in England, France, and Germany, so he was nearby Bill’s unit in 1944 and 1945. The brothers took advantage of several opportunities to meet one another on recreational leave. During these furloughs, Bill told Henry much of his experiences.

After Bill came back to England from Normandy, Henry wrote a letter home dated 23 July, 1944 concerning Sicily. He wrote from his station at the 47th Liaison Squadron at Heston Aerodrome outside of London, England. Bill had come over from the 505 base at nearby Quorn to visit Henry on a six day furlough. This letter is the most revealing of all Henry’s letters concerning what Bill went through in Sicily and provides further evidence that Bill was at Biazza Ridge.

In one of the interviews with Henry I focused on a good friend of Bill’s – his best buddy – who died during the war. I asked Henry where Bill’s friend had died. Henry told me that his buddy died in Sicily during a battle with tanks:

“Did I tell you what precipitated the tank attack on those guys? A tank has got a glass thing where you can look through made of pretty heavy stuff. These guys were shooting the glass visors out of those German tanks. They [the Germans] got tired of that. All they had to do was put another one in, but they probably got tired of doing that, so they just took after them guys. Bill said that they used an 88 on his buddy [an .88mm gun mounted on the tank]. They had separated, so the guy [tank driver] has to turn around and hunt him, so Bill had a chance. He had an out there. That’s living on the edge. These were Tiger tanks too. They were heavy duty jobs. You couldn’t just shoot them down with anything. You about needed an armor piercing 88 I guess. I used to know that guy’s name because Bill liked him pretty much. It was a big shock for Bill. Bill told me it a couple times – the guy’s name.” Source: Interview with Henry Clark Jr. November 4, 2005

After the interview I handed Henry a list of names of men who died in Sicily and asked him if the man’s name was on the list. Henry couldn’t remember the friend’s name or even if it might be one of the people on the list.



Captured Mark VI Tiger I Tank in Tunisia, North Africa, 1943

The viewer Henry Clark talked about is a slit located opposite the machine gun and underneath the 88mm gun

Source: Wikipedia Commons

As Henry talked my understanding of what actually happened to Bill’s friend was startling because it pointed to Bill’s presence at the Battle of Biazza Ridge. Henry’s memories also concur with the letter mentioned above which he wrote home summarizing Bill’s experiences during Operation HUSKY.

Henry Clark Jr. Letter Home Dated 23 July 1944









Transcript of Henry’s Letter

Pvt. Henry Clark Jr. 15195205

47th Liaison Sqdn APO 6A6

C/O Postmaster New York, New York

Post marked 28 July 1944

Dear folks, [Internal date] July 23rd 1944

You are probably wondering what has become of me as you haven’t been hearing from me very often lately.

I wont try to make any excuses for not writing.

Bill dropped in to see me since I last wrote. He had a six day furlough so he spent five days down here with me.

We had quite a time an a lot of time to talk. Won’t try to tell you everything as it would take a book for that.

He’s still the same guy. The only difference I could see was a “G.I. Haircut”

He has done a lot of fighting in the “E.T.O.” an has three stars in his ribbon plus the “Purple Heart” which he doesn’t wear.

That magazine clipping I sent home outlines his story very well. He says it was the worst for him in Sicily. He hurt his knee there an also lost his gun on the jump, but according to his story he soon got another gun an had some stiff engagements with some of Jerrys panzers. He really has some stories to tell, some of them are amusing an some are not so amusing.

He is definitely a soldier an a good one with a lot of experience behind him. All of this helps out. He says “The first engagement is the hardest.” Bet Pap can vouch for that. Bill will have plenty of stories to tell when he gets home.” [The letter continues, but talks of activities and events concerning the latter part of the war]

As ever.


Henry’s 1944 letter and Bill’s own letter written to his sister in 1945 are proof that Bill was at Biazza Ridge. The only other tank battles fought by the 505 in Sicily occurred nearby west of Biazza Ridge where 1st Battalion 505 was engaging the western kampgruppe of the Hermann Goring Division. Those men fought the smaller, but no less powerful Mark IV Tigers. Bill is clear in his letter to Doris that his battalion fought the larger Mark VI Tigers – the same ones that Col. Gavin’s mixed units (consisting of personnel from Company B of the 307th Combat Engineers, Regimental Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Service Company, as well as G and H Companies) fought at Biazza Ridge.

It’s certain that Bill was there and fought in the battle. From what we now know, the battle can be reconstructed from Bill’s perspective – the subject of the next post.

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Battle of Biazza Ridge

Operation Husky: Axis Forces in Sicily

In July 1943, the defenses of Sicily were as follows: there were between 200,000 and 300,000 Italian troops; and about 30,000 Germans on the island. The Italian forces were comprised of several divisions with troops spread thinly over the island’s coastal defenses, but they were poorly equipped and suffered from low morale. Most would surrender due to their hatred of the War and Mussolini. The supreme Axis commander for Sicily was General Alfredo Guzzoni. The Axis troops made up the Italian VI Army. It is widely recognized that although the German forces were part of the Italian VI Army, they were firmly under the control of Field Marshall Kesselring the top German commander in Sicily who reported directly to the German high command in Berlin.



Italian General Guzzoni

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 77. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

The German defenses were comprised of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, stationed near Marsala and Trapani in the Western tip of Sicily and the Hermann Goring Panzer Division which was deployed inland behind the Gela beaches around Niscemi in the east and Biscari (now named Acate) in the west. See Map 1 below.


Invasion Sicily

Map 1: Distribution of Axis and Allied Forces July 10, 1943

Source: “Sicily Campaign”, Birtle, Andrew J., 1993 U.S. Army Center of Military History. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from

The Axis strategists knew they didn’t have enough armed forces to win against an Allied invasion of Sicily and realized that their only hope was to stop an invasion early by pushing the Allies back into the sea before they could gain any foot hold. There were two perceived landing areas, one on the beaches around Gela and the other in the West, near Marsala and Trapani. Field Marshall Kesselring saw the potential of an Allied landing near Marsala and shortly before the invasion convinced General Guzzoni to transfer the 15th Panzer Grenadier’s from Gela to that area. Source: “Sicily Campaign”, Birtle, Andrew J., 1993, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Retrieved May 2, 2011, from


German Field Marshal Kesselring

Source: “United States Army in World War II European Theater of Operations: The Supreme Command”, Pogue F. 1954, Page 212. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from 

The 15th Panzer Division was at full strength, and if they stayed near Gela the outcome could have been very different for the Allies. A “panzer” division is German for an armored division being composed of armored tanks, personnel carriers, infantry, artillery, anti-aircraft units, and signal corps, etc. Designed for Blitzkrieg, (which translates to “lightning war” in English) its units were mobile and mechanized.

The other main German force on Sicily, the Hermann Goring Panzer Division, had its roots as a Nazi police battalion created in 1933 by the then Minister of the Interior, Hermann Goring. It notoriously took part in part in the purge of Hitler’s enemies during the Night of Long Knifes, between June 30 and July 2, 1934. In 1935 it was designated the Regiment General Goring, a component of the Luftwaffe where it trained and served primarily as an anti-aircraft flak unit. In 1942 it was transformed into the Hermann Goring Division, which was composed of 5000 paratroops; the remains of several parachute outfits from campaigns fought on the Eastern Front and Crete. It was sent to Tunisia where after fighting with distinction, it surrendered in May 1943 with scant members escaping to Sicily. At the time of Operation HUSKY, the Hermann Goring Division was re-designated “Panzer-Division Hermann Goring” and was in the process of growing to the size of a true panzer division. Source: “Axis History Facebook”, M. Wendel, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Later during the Italian campaign, the Hermann Goring Division was found to have committed atrocities:

“Evidence has been found to show that a large number of the atrocities in Italy was committed by the Hermann Goering Parachute Panzer Division. Notable offenders also were l Parachute Division, 16 SS Panzer Grenadier Division and 114 Light Division.” Source: “Report of British War Crimes Section of Allied Force Headquarters on German Reprisals for Partisan Activities in Italy” Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression. Volume VIII. USGPO, Washington, 1946/pp.572-582 S. Stein 1999. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Later in the War,  The Hermann Goring Division was sent to Poland where on August 4, 1944, it fought in Warsaw as one of the units carrying out  Hitler's orders to destroy the city:

“The Hermann Goering Armored Division advanced into the center of the city, driving civilians in front of its tanks as a protective shield and for the purpose of disassembling the barricades.” Source:  “For over two months...” Gessing, P., 2000, Polish Academic Information Center, University at Buffalo. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Even if it had yet to commit these atrocities, one could reasonably surmise that the Division would be expected to be tough and ruthless with its roots as a Nazi police battalion bearing the name of one of the worst Nazi criminals of the War. After HUSKY, the name “Hermann Goring Division” was tantamount to describing a malevolent brutality that would endlessly sear the hearts and torment the minds of the men in the 505 who fought them at Biazza Ridge.

In June of 1943, the Division was being reorganized under the command of General Paul Conrath – the same man who led them in Tunisia. During HUSKY, its reorganization was still in progress so it was under strength and included some unproven personnel. Despite this the division was an inarguably powerful force, being composed approximately of:

  • Over 100 tanks including a company of 17 Mark VI Tiger I heavy tanks from the 215th Tank Battalion,
  • Mobile units of anti tank, anti aircraft, and artillery,
  • Reconnaissance units,
  • 2 infantry battalions, and the
  • 3rd and 4th Fallschirmjager regiments from the 1st Parachute Division.

Sources:On to Berlin” Gavin, J pp 36 – 38, 1978 and “Comando Supremo: Italy at War” (sic), Heddlesten, J. Retrieved May 2, 2011, from

As reported in an earlier blog post, Preparing for Operation HUSKY – Invasion of Sicily the 505 leaders, except for General Omar Bradley  had no idea that the Hermann Goring Division was in the area.



General Paul Conrath Commander of the Herman Goring Division

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 80. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

Operation Husky: Allied Forces

An early plan called for the invasion of Sicily at two points simultaneously, one in the northwest corner around Marsala and Trapani and the other in the southeast corner of the island around Gela and Syracuse (see Map 1 above). In these locations there was a natural combination of good landing beaches, ports, and airfields. The Axis opposition to the invasion was expected to be strong because German troops had proved worthy opponents in Tunisia, and this would be the first time the Italians would be defending their own country. This led to General Eisenhower adopting a conservative plan which called for an invasion of Sicily at the Island’s southeastern corner.

The invasion would consist of seaborne landing troops supported by airborne infantry. The British 8th Army under Montgomery was to land on beaches starting at the Pachino Peninsula and ending to the south near Syracuse. The British objectives included capturing the cities of Augusta, Catania, an airfield at Gerbini, and then Messina.

The US 7th Army of which the 82nd Airborne Division was a part was made up of 200,000 men under General Patton. It would land on beaches in the Gulf of Gela. The US 1st Division would land on the beaches directly around Gela. Its job was to capture the adjacent airfields, then move into Niscemi. The 45th Infantry Division would land to the right of the 1st Division on the beaches west of Scoglitti. It was to capture Comiso and Ragusa where it would meet up with the British 8th Army. The 82nd Airborne Division's 505th PIR and 504th PIR 3rd battalion objective was to take and hold the high ground north of the beaches in front of the 1st Division. They were also to take and block the road leading south from Niscemi and the intersection at Piano Lupo called the “Y”. The 3rd Division would land on the beaches around Licata. It was charged with the security of the left flank of the 1st Division. The seaborne Allied invasion forces were to land simultaneously at 02:45am, July 10th 1943. Source: “Sicily 1943”, Birtle A. J. U.S. Army Center of Military History. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



Gela Beach Looking East toward Scoglitti

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 90. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



The Sicilian Coastline looking West from Scoglitti

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 140. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

Upon reaching the early objectives of the invasion, the US forces were given somewhat ambiguous orders to support the British push toward Messina. The British general Alexander was the chief planner for the invasion, and he had chosen to leave the details of how to take the rest of the island until after early invasion objectives were reached. When it came time to make these decisions, the US forces were ordered to halt at Highway 124. It was deemed that this road was needed so that the British 8th Army could drive up through the middle of the island. This would make the US 7th Army defunct, a fact that upset the US brass, and in particular General Patton, who had assumed that once successful the US forces would continue to advance along side the British all the way to Messina. Unfortunately for Montgomery, Patton decided to take advantage of the situation by using some of his forces to attack the Germans in the north and west of the British, taking Trapani, Palermo and pushing on to liberate Messina, ultimately reaching the city before Montgomery.

The Axis Response

General Paul Conrath, with his Hermann Goring Panzer Division was in the best possible position to push Patton’s 7th Army invasion force back into the sea on the night of July 9th – 10th. Recognizing the importance of the beaches around Gela and Scoglitti to an Allied invasion he had already deployed his division about 25 miles inland from the invasion beaches (See Map 1 above and Map 2 below). His forces were far enough back to be out of reach from naval guns, but close enough to strike quickly in the event of an amphibious invasion. There was also a road network which gave him two separate approaches to the invasion beaches. One was to the west leading from Niscemi to the beaches where the 1st division was to land. The other was in the east and led from Biscari (Now named Acate) to the beaches where the 45th division would land. Source:Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978, pp. 35-36

Conrath took advantage of the road network and its close proximity to the beaches by dividing his forces into two battle groups, each one was called a “Kampfgruppe”. In the event of an Allied amphibious invasion, the Western Kampfgruppe would attack the beaches around Gela via the Niscemi road, while the Eastern Kampfgruppe would attack the beaches around Scoglitti via Biscari (now named Acate). On its way down to the beaches, the eastern group would pass through Biazza Ridge. Source: Ibid, page 35-36

(Click on the lines and other icons for information about troop concentrations, positions, and movements.)
 News of the imminent  invasion had already reached General Guzzoni in his Axis 6th Army Headquarters before any Allied troops landed. As soon as word reached General Conrath he wasted no time and at 10:00pm on July 9 while Bill’s C-47 was still over the Mediterranean, he alerted his command of the possible Allied invasion around Gela and Scoglitti. However, he quickly ran into problems. By the time subsequent communications were made, Bill had jumped and his fellow paratroopers from the 505 and 3rd battalion of the 504th PIR had cut the communication lines during the night of July 9 and early morning of the 10. Conrath was unable to communicate with any Axis forces including his own, resulting in failure of his units to receive orders. In addition, the 3rd battalion of 504 had landed near its assigned DZ and was attacking columns of Conrath’s Western Kampfgruppe causing confusion and panic. Source:Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978, pp. 35-36

The Axis counter offensive had suffered badly. In part because of the communications failure they missed their opportunity to reach the beaches and stop the landings at Gela. By 2:45am on July 10 the landings by the 1st Infantry Division around Gela and those of the 45th Division were well underway. The landings were a success due in large part to the heroic efforts of the troopers from 1st Battalion, 505. They were able to stop the advance of the counter attacks of the Western Kampfgruppe consisting of Mark IV Tiger tanks and other armor moving along the road from Niscemi towards the beaches around Gela. They also captured the “Y” - a vital road intersection allowing access to the beaches between Niscemi and Gela. Source: Ibid, page 38-41


The “Y” Road Junction Leading to the Invasion Beaches from Niscemi and Vittoria

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 137. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



Ponto Drillo, the Causeway over the Acate River – 5 miles from the “Y”. Seized by the 505 on July 10

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 118. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

Finally, Field Marshall Kesselring was able to get through to the 6th Army, who relayed the orders for the Hermann Goring Division to continue their attack early on the morning of July 11.  As a result the final attack from the Western Kampfgruppe consisting of German tanks and armor was launched that morning from the Ponte Olivo airfield  - west and out of range of the formidable paratrooper positions - across open flat country toward the invasion beaches. It was stopped on the outskirts of Gela by the veteran 1st Infantry Division. Source: Ibid, page 38-41


Wrecked German Tanks on the Gela Plain after Their Defeat by the 1st Infantry Division

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 171. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from



Typical Axis Defensive Positions on the Coast Road East of Licata

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 134. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

By the afternoon of July 10, the Eastern Kampfgruppe of the Herman Goring Division moved south toward the left and right flanks of the US 45th division beachhead. The force consisted of the 1st panzer Grenadier Regiment (consisting of 2 battalions), one armored artillery battalion, and one heavy panzer company, consisting of 17 Mark VI Tiger I heavy tanks each weighing sixty tons and mounting an 88mm main gun. Source: Ibid, page 35-36

This force amounted to 700 infantry, a battalion of self-propelled artillery, and a company of Tiger tanks. Source: “Sicily 1943”, Birtle A. J., U.S. Army Center of Military History. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

By the early morning of July 11, the eastern Kampfgruppe was at Biazza Ridge as can be seen in Map 2 above. This is the force that Gavin was going to attack.

 The Battle of Biazza Ridge

Biazza Ridge is a place of honor, a place of respect. In Fort Bragg, there’s a housing development that bears it’s name. This is the place where the famous battle between the Hermann Goring Panzer Division and elements of the 505 took place.

After making a long trek from his actual drop zone, Col. Gavin arrived in Vittoria early on the morning of July 11, where he heard reports that there were paratroopers a few miles to the west. He headed in that direction to find the 3rd Battalion getting organized. Col. Krause, the 3rd Battalion commander, told Gavin that there were Germans between their position and Gela, where the 45th Division was engaging them. Gavin took a platoon of 307th combat engineers and headed west on the highway leading from Vittoria to Gela. Soon he heard gun fire and continued down the road. At this time it was about 8:30am. He reached a point where a railway crossed the road and saw Biazza Ridge in front of him about half a mile away and 100 feet high with a gradual slope to the east. The firing he had heard earlier was coming from the ridge and its intensity was increasing. The firing was from Germans of the Hermann Goring Division and the 180th US Infantry. They had engaged each other on the west side of the ridge south of the highway. The Germans were occupying the ridge. Gavin deployed his platoon of engineers ordering them to take the ridge. He then sent for 3rd battalion and they came. Source: “Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978 page 28


505 Troopers Advancing on Biazza Ridge, Morning July 11

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 166. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from

“As Company G, 505th, leading the 3rd Battalion, swept across the ground in front of the ridge, pinned down engineers and headquarters troopers jumped to their feet and joined in the assault up the Eastern slope.” Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005, page 74

The ridge was soon captured because the German’s pulled back in front of the Company G attack that contained troopers from Regimental Headquarters Company. Source: Ibid page 74. Several riggers were also present in the initial attack and Bill could well have been one of them:

“The American Parachutists, a hodgepodge collection of engineers, cooks, orderlies, riggers, clerks, and riflemen, had no field guns, antitank guns or tanks and would be vastly outnumbered in the looming confrontation.”  Source: Breurer, W., “Drop Zone Sicily: Allied Airborne Strike, July 1943”, 1983, page 138


Biazza ridge Sicily Invasion—U.S. paratroopers advancing through the Sicilian countryside after night landing. Gela, Sicily. Photos taken by the US Army Signal Corps during World War II

505 Troopers on top of Biazza Ridge, July 11

Image Source: The U.S. Army Military History Institute. Retrieved May 2, 2011 from

Credit: WWII Army Signal Corps

The troopers pushed the Germans over the top and down the western slope of the ridge. Fire intensified with mortars, artillery and machine guns. The Germans swiftly counterattacked, and the troopers were forced back over the ridge’s crest. At that point Company H took over the attack from Company G. They were ordered to fix bayonets and then charged over the ridge engaging the Germans in bloody hand to hand combat, killing many of them and forcing a German retreat. Sometime at this point the men on the ridge first heard the German tanks. The troopers on the ridge chased the Germans down the western side. The Germans counterattacked again, using tanks in addition to the infantry. The tanks were Mark VI Tiger tanks each equipped with an 88mm cannon. There were 17 of them. The tanks began firing at individual troopers with their 88mm cannons. Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005, page 74 - 75

“Sergeant Bill Bishop, with Company G, hadn’t had enough time to dig a slit trench, when one of the Mark VI tanks came up the gentle slope toward him, suddenly stopping close by.Me and a fellow named Duke Boswell were laying within two or three feet from the tank treads in a small ditch. They would shoot at a single man with the 88’s they had on those tanks. They killed a bunch of people with that 88. They ran over one man’s legs. Of course he died from shock. His name was [Sergeant] Gerald Ludlam.’” Source: Ibid Page 76

Col. Gavin later commented on the power of a Tiger tank:

“A Tiger tank is an awesome thing to encounter in combat. Weighing more than 60 tons, armed with an 88 mm. gun and machine guns, it was far more formidable than anything we had ever seen, and we had nothing in our own armored forces to compare with it.” Source: “Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978 page  31


Mark VI “Tiger I” Heavy Battle Tank in Sicily, 1943

Source: Wikipedia Commons,_Sizilien,_Panzer_VI_%28Tiger_I%29.jpg

A review of the Tiger VI technical specifications reveals its terrible power. The PzKpfw, Mark VI Tiger I Heavy Battle Tank, coded by the German Army as the “SdKfz 181”, commonly known as a “Tiger I” had a crew of 5 and was in service from 1942 - 1945. Boasting a 88mm gun mounted on its swiveling turret, the Tigers must have seemed like mobile artillery to the men of the Allied units who encountered them. They had two MG 34 792mm machine guns, one in the turret and the other on the front of the hull. The tank’s defensive armor was 1.02” thick (26mm) at its minimum and 4.33” (100mm) at its maximum. At 27 feet long (8.25m), 12’3” (3.73 m) wide, and 9’4” (2.85m) tall, the Tiger Mark VI was one of the most massive tanks of the entire war.

It weighed an enormous 121,253 lb (55,000 Kg) yielding a ground pressure of 14.8 lb/in2 (1.04 Kg/cm2). But for all of its weight, the Tiger I was fast enough and had a long range. It boasted road speeds of 24 MPH (38 KM/h), cross country speeds of 12 MPH (20KM/h) and a maximum range of 62 miles (100 KM). The tank’s field agility was equally impressive, as it was able to drive over any reinforced vertical obstacle standing 2’7” (80cm high) and move through trenches as deep as 5’11” (1.8m). Its fording depth was 4’ (1.2m). Rounding out its agility, the weapon could tackle gradients as steep as 35 degrees. All these reasons made the  Tiger I one of the most fearsome Blitzkrieg weapons in the German arsenal. After the “King Tiger” manufactured in 1944 for the Russian Front it was the most powerful tank of WWII. It’s easy to see why the German tank crews driving them felt invincible. Source:Tanks of the World”, Miller D., 2000, pp. 121-122

The 505 troopers were using bazooka teams to try and take out the tanks. A bazooka team consisted of two men. One loaded the shell into the bazooka and the other man took aim and fired. The operation took time to perform. From the time a bazooka team got into their position, loaded, aimed, and fired, they were exposed and vulnerable. The tanks took advantage of this by turning their 88mm cannons on the bazooka teams and blowing them away. The Tigers also had machine guns mounted and would use these with devastating effect on the pinned down troopers. Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005, pp. 76-77

At this point the German tanks and infantry couldn’t break through the 505 line. The tanks would run low of ammunition and needed to periodically fall back to supply teams to replenish. Moreover, the 505 held the high ground on the ridge making it difficult for the German infantry to take the hill even with the tank support.

As the battle progressed, wounded troopers were arriving in increasing numbers all telling of how the Tigers were firing at individuals with their 88s. German prisoners were coming back too:

“They said they were from the Hermann Goring Parachute Panzer Division. I remember one of them asking if we had fought with the Japanese in the Pacific; he said he asked because the paratroopers had fought so hard.” Source: “Onto Berlin” Gavin, J., 1978, page 30

The Tiger supported infantry attacks continued until the afternoon of July 11. During the day small groups of troopers were arriving and as they came in they were sent to the front line to reinforce the men on the ridge.  Even with all the new arrivals, it wasn’t going to be enough because the 505 didn’t have any heavy weapons to deal with the Tigers and infantry alone couldn’t destroy them. Gavin was determined to hold the ridge. He resolved that if the tanks overran their position, they would remain on the ridge and engage the German infantry. The tanks would have continued on to the beach in an attempt to push the 45th Division back into the sea. Source: Ibid page 77-78

In the letter to his sister, Bill writes:

“This all took place on one of those dark days that my battalion was fighting 13 “Mark 6” or “tiger tanks” with 30 caliber rifles an two 75 m.m Howitzers.” Source: William Clark, Letter to his Sister, Doris Clark, June 13th 1945, page 2-3

Gavin had insisted on parachuting with two pack 75mm howitzers. These were the same weapons that Bill mentioned in his letter. At this point, Col. Gavin got the howitzers and placed them in camouflaged positions just underneath the eastern side of the ridge. When the tanks got to the top of the ridge they would have their softer undersides exposed. This is when the howitzers would open fire aiming at their underside, hopefully taking them out.

By the time the howitzers were in place, one tank had broken through the lines and was chewing up the troopers. One of the howitzer teams took shots at it, and it retreated. Due to the smoke and dust from the howitzer attack, it was unclear what, if any damage was sustained by the retreating Tiger.

A little later at about 4:00pm, the Tigers were advancing and had come to within 50 yards of Gavin’s command post. It looked like they were going to crest the ridge and overrun the 505 entirely. At that moment, Gavin’s men were able communicate with the Navy and they called in an artillery barrage from the 155 mm Naval guns. Following the intense bombardment, the Germans withdrew and regrouped about a mile away. By about 6:00pm word came that reinforcements were coming. They arrived around 7:00pm consisting of Sherman tanks from the 45th Infantry Division and about 50 more paratroopers from Regimental Headquarters Company led by Lt. Swingler of the Service Company.

With the additional troopers and heavy artillery, Gavin decided to counterattack in order to strengthen their position in the event that the Germans decided to attack again. At around 8:30pm the 505 attacked with everyone that was present including:

“….regimental clerks, cooks, truck drivers, everyone who could carry a rifle or carbine was in the attack.” Source:All American All the Way” Nordyke, P., 2005 page 81

Although the troopers were under fierce fire from the Tigers, machine guns, mortars and small arms the attack was successful, and the Germans retreated thus ending the battle of Biazza Ridge. During the fight, Lt. Swingler came upon a Tiger sitting in the road with its crew outside. He dropped a grenade among them and the explosion killed all of them. It was the first Tiger captured during the battle.

In the aftermath, men were picked to dig graves and the fallen paratroopers were temporarily buried.

“Head bowed in prayer, Capt. Al Ireland peeked at the resolute regimental commander who stood looking down at the graves. There were tears in Colonel Gavin’s eyes.” Source: Breurer, W., “Drop Zone Sicily: Allied Airborne Strike, July 1943”, 1983, page 139


Col. Gavin (Right) at Biazza Ridge Morning of July 11

Source:  “United States Army in World War II Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Sicily and the Surrender of Italy” Garland
A., etal., 1993, page 169. Retrieved May 4, 2011 from


Below is a newspaper article from my collection that gives a good summary of the participation of paratroopers in the Sicily invasion. The way it reads, it’s certainly recounting the actions of the 505. The team commander referred to is Col. Gavin.



Newspaper Article summarizing the paratroopers’ participation in the invasion.

Source: Dayton Herald, circa July 12 1943


The next post will focus on establishing Bill’s presence and reconstructing his participation in the battle of Biazza Ridge.

© Copyright Jeffrey Clark 2011 All Rights Reserved.