The Battle of Monte Pantano: Nov 29 – Dec 4, 1943

The Battle of Monte Pantano: Nov 29 – Dec 4, 1943

     My father, Maj. Arthur L. Ludwick M.D., earned the Silver Star for “gallantry-in-action” on Mt. Pantano, Italy during the winter of 1943., an unusual combat commendation for an unarmed Medical Officer. Over the course of 5 days, he treated and evacuated the wounded who had been pinned down on top of the mountain, by heavy enemy mortar fire.  I knew, that in planning my trip to southern Italy to retrace my father’s routes and battlefields during the war, (“A Daughter’s Pilgrimage”) I wanted to visit this site and see it for myself. Here’s some context:

    Before Cassino, the 168th had to first capture Monte Pantano, the anchor in the German Winter Defense Line. The high command in Berlin had ordered the Winter Line held at all costs. This seemingly impossible objective assigned to the Iowa boys of the168th Regiment, was to become its defining test of courage and will.

      On November 29, 1943, about 15 miles south of Cassino, Italy, the 168th Infantry Regiment was given the assignment to take Monte Pantano along the Volturno Valley. My father described it as a very steep rocky hill, about like Saddle Rock, a popular hiking destination in Wenatchee, Washington.  “And the Germans were on an adjoining little mound, dug in with machine guns and mortar shells. They had fortified their position with concrete and steel bunkers. Once again, the enemy had the advantage of occupying the high ground, looking down our throats.” 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        --Maj. Arthur L. Ludwick, M.D.

      The Germans pounded Mt. Pantano viciously with mortar and artillery fire, then strafed the area with fighter planes. Over the course of seven days and nights, battle casualties for the 168th Regimental Combat Team on the approximately 3,600 foot Monte Pantano, amounted to 35 officers and 429 enlisted men. Non-battle casualties were extensive because of the harsh elements and because the Fifth Army troops had not been issued winter uniforms at that stage. Many suffered from frostbite, trench foot, pneumonia, and the flu.

      “As it turned out,” embedded Des Moines Register journalist, Gordon Gammack wrote, “the battle of Monte Pantano, fought high above the clouds in December 1943, was one of the fiercest battles of the bitter Italian campaign. The gallantry of the veteran Iowa and Minnesota soldiers (National Guard units) and the many men from the other states who fought with them, was extraordinary.”

      Luciano Bucci, our gracious host and guide in Venafro, arranged to take us to Mt. Pantano in his rugged 4x4 vehicle (or was it a tank?). It was a wild ride!

      See the captioned photos for details of our adventure. You can read more fascinating details about this critical battle, in my father’s own words as well as journalist Gordon Gammack's extensive reporting for The Des Moines Register, in my book, A DOCTOR’S WAR.

Posted December 20, 2023

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