By Sgt. Ralph G. Martin

Mediterranean Stars and Stripes

WITH THE FIFTH ARMY IN ITALY—The cave was a perfect OP. It was dug deep into solid rock, just beneath the mountain peak. From either side of the cave the Germans could see everything they wanted to see—troop concentrations, gun emplacements, convoy movements. Consequently the entire American sector was under German fire, concentrated, blistering, deadly accurate.

45th infantry division engineers

Insignia of the 45th Infantry Division.

The OP itself was far outside the German line. It stuck out like a skinny finger, flanked on both sides by Americans. To give the OP a protective covering of troops, the Nazis were forced to stretch out their front. It meant expending a lot of German soldiers.

But the Germans thought it was worth the price—it was. Artillery fire directed from that OP had stopped the entire forward American push in that area. Before anything else, the Americans had to knock out that OP. But how?

Direct Artillery fire might do it, but the target was almost insignificantly small. The Infantry might storm the heights, but casualties would be terrific. So the Combat Engineers got the job.

Company C of the 45th Division Engineers outfit sent out a three-man patrol with a lot of TNT. To get onto the short, flat ledge above the cave, the three soldiers had to creep up the slope, their faces on the ground, as if they were kids again, rolling peanuts across the room. The three of them—Pvt. Woodrow W. Smouse of Farmington, N. Mex.; S/Sgt. Chares Corelia of Ajo, Ariz., and 1st Lt. Bernard Gordon Jr. of Larchmont, N.Y.—rolled their peanuts very slowly. They examined the situation carefully and decided that the job could be done. To do it, they would need at least 500 pounds of TNT. With that much explosive, planted on top of the ledge, they could collapse most of the cave.


Army Combat Engineers work to clear a town in Anzio

Making 11 separate trips, carrying 50 pounds of TNT each time and wondering when the Krauts on the neighboring hills would spot him and open up, Pvt. Smouse sweater out the ammunition-passing. Meanwhile the sergeant and the lieutenant busied themselves with two time fuses and an electric fuse. Several yards of rock beneath them were the Germans, blissfully unaware of everything.

At least, all done, the three got up and ran like hell, diving into a foxhole 50 yards away. Then the lieutenant turned the handle on the fuse.

Seconds after the explosion the Germans concentrated a barrage of machine-gun and mortar shells on that single slope. But the three engineers were racing down the hill toward our positions. None of them was hit. Sgt. Corelia had the only souvenir—a piece of shrapnel that pierced his combat suit but was deflected into a candy bar by a spoon in his pocket.

There was no more German OP. That day American troops rushed forward from the front and both flanks helping the Germans straighten out their line by completely cutting off the bulge of hills.

For More on the Battle of Anzio Check Out:

Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome

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