CROSSING THE RIVER RAPIDO



THE DISASTER OF THE RAPIDO.


71 years ago, on 20th January 1944, The United States 36th Infantry division formed from the Texas National Guard, was front and center in one of the bloodiest and most tragic episodes for the U.S Army in World War II. The unit was part of the Allies’ Fifth Army fighting in the Italian theater of operations while the Normandy invasion was in Planning.


The Rapido River was the last natural barrier between General Mark Clark’s 5th US Army and Rome. Ignoring intelligence reports that the Germans has significant forces protecting the opposite side of the river, Clark ordered the T-Patchers to make a nighttime crossing on January 20, 1944. The attack began at 7:30 p.m. with an artillery barrage of more than a thousand shells fired every six seconds, designed to explode in a pattern every six square yards. For all the noise and fury, however, there were few German casualties. As the T-Patchers began to move toward the river, the enemy's defenses remained intact. A few minutes after the American shelling began, the Germans fired back, catching the T-Patchers out in the open, mired in the muddy approaches to the river. The troops ran for cover, leaving the specially marked lanes that had been cleared of mines, but there was no place to hide. "You couldn't tell what the hell was going on," one survivor said. It was a bloody disaster—and it was only beginning. The men were not even close to the crossing point and they were already disorganized. The wounded were screaming for the medics. Most of the rubber boats had been torn to pieces by shrapnel. General Walker knew all about the folly of trying to cross a river under heavy enemy fire. On July 15, 1918, he had been a battalion commander at the Second Battle of the Marne when a force of 10,000 Germans tried to cross the Marne River under fire. Walker's out of 1,200 men slaughtered them. It was a lesson he never forgot. "There I learned the great advantage that defenders of an unfordable river have over the attackers," he wrote. And now, 25 years later, history was about to repeat itself. Only this time, Walker's men would be the ones to make the attack, and what they faced was even more forbidding than what the Germans confronted at the Marne. After the Battle “At the cost of more than 2,000 casualties, not even a toehold had been won at the Rapido, writes Rick Atckinson in his brilliant “The Day of the Battle”. There was a cover-up of sorts after the disaster, and the incident might have escaped public notice had not members of the 36th Division Association loudly demanded an investigation after the war. Reluctant to conduct one, the Army predictably concluded no one had done anything wrong. It was war, after all, and in the war people get killed. Then the Rapido river crossing was largely forgotten. Texans should remember the Rapido river just like they remember Alamo. To honor valor the sacrifice, we all have to remember them!


THE COST***


- Action lasted almost 48 hours

- 1,681 men were killed, with a total of 2,877 casualties and missing.

- 36th Division was reduced to one regiment.


*** Sources: 36th Division Association, Texas Military Museum (Camp Mabry), U.S. Army, National Archivies.