entry Jan 2005
(This is the third in a series of oral history narratives about WW2 in southern Italy. This edited narrative is the result of interviews with Herman Chanowitz, former captain in the 2nd Tactical Air Communications Squadron, and a veteran of the Allied campaigns in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany. He is a long-time resident of Naples.)
(note: Herman Chanowitz passed away in June, 2012. See this link.)
The Germans did a wonderful job of
defending it. They told their people that they had to
hold the Allied forces back so they didn't get to
Cassino by Christmas. They needed that much time—this
was in October, 1943—to prepare the defensive sites.
San Pietro was 20 kilometers in front of—south
of—Cassino. There was a terrible battle fought there
[in San Pietro]; it started somewhere around the 8th
or 9th of December. The town of San Pietro,
itself, is in the valley between two hills, Monte
Lungo and Monte Sammucro. It's just off of Route 6.
Another town there is Venafro. Going up that
particular valley, you come to Monte Lungo.
It was the 36th
Division that was given the task of trying to conquer
San Pietro. But before they did that, they had to take
Monte Lungo. The Italians, for the first time, had an
expeditionary force [ed. note: the newly constituted Italian
1st Motorized Brigade] and they wanted very much to get into the
act. This was the first time they were working with
the Allies, so they were given the task—if they wanted
it—of conquering Monte Lungo, just south of San
What happened though was that they
were told that there weren't too many weapons up there
and that it shouldn't be difficult to take. When they
started up the hill, they were slaughtered. The
Italians said that there were a lot of weapons up
there that the Americans had said wouldn't be there.
It was a German trap. An American regiment from the 36th
Division—I think it was the 143rd Regiment—finally
took the hill . I think it was next day or the day
after. Then you had to take the hill of Sammucro, and
then you get into the town of San Pietro, which was
sitting in the valley.
Italian muleteers removing
All of this happened in late November and early December. They made a movie about it: The Battle for San Pietro. John Huston. There is also a guy from San Pietro, a school teacher named Maurizo Zambardi. I think he's in his forties. He is very, very good with history and has written a lot about it.
It was a very big battle, on
the outskirts and in the town, itself. House to house.
The town was ultimately destroyed. Then the Germans just
withdrew to the next position, Cassino, itself. There
was a river there. It was very difficult to forge. You
couldn't get across.
(Photo credits: All photos of San Pietro by Herman Chanowitz. I have been unable to trace credit/copyright information for the record album graphic of the stylized Mt. Vesuvius/US flag. If anyone has accurate information, I would be happy to list the appropriate credit.)