by Frank Van Lunteren
Philadelphia: Casemate, 2016. Pp. xiv, 342.
Illus., maps, appends, notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 161200427X
The “Devils in Baggy Pants” in Italy
Previously the author of The Battle of the Bridges: The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in Operation Market Garden (2014) and Blocking Kampfgruppe Peiper: The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Battle of the Bulge (2015), van Lunteren goes back in time a bit, to look at the role of the 504th PIR in Italy.
Already veterans of the campaign in Sicily, the regiment entered the battle for the mainland of Italy with a dramatic nocturnal jump into the beleaguered Salerno beachhead on Sept. 13, 1943 and was then almost continuously in action the until the end of the year. Van Lunteren follows the regiment as it took part in the liberation of Naples and then went into heavy fighting on the Winter Line through December. At the start of 1944, the regiment was pulled out of the line, given a brief rest and additional training and the took part in the amphibious landing at Anzio (January 22, 1944). There followed two months of very heavy positional fighting, before the regiment – nicknamed “The Devils in Baggy Pants” by the enemy – were withdrawn in late March of 1944 to prepare for the Normandy landings.
This is not a work about generals and strategy, but a soldier’s eye-view of what took place, drawing on van Lunteren’s extensive interviews with veterans of the 504th Regimental Combat Team, of which he is an honorary member. So we get looks at desperate, but often long forgotten skirmishes, details of life at the front, glimpses at relations with civilians, and more, while putting the reader in almost personal contact with the men.
Spearhead of the Fifth Army is an excellent read for anyone interested in men at war, as well as for students of the airborne operations, the Italian Campaign, and the war in Europe.