Bloody Basin: An Italian No-Man's-Land of Black Mist and Enemy Patrols
By Sgt. BURGESS SCOTT YANK Staff Correspondent
At the Front in Italy—Because so many men from both sides have died; here, Yanks of one Fifth Army unit call this sector "Bloody Basin."
The Basin is a shallow depression in a rocky, mountainous setting-a bowl some 200 yards across, with a few battered clumps of mountain scrub and more shell holes than a man can count.
The bottom and sides of the bowl have been pummeled, pounded and powdered by the 105s, 88s, mortars and howitzers until Bloody Basin looks more like a Hollywood battlefield set than like part of the Fifth Army front lines.
At dawn and at dusk, thin layers of mist pour into the Basin and lie in sheets over its scrub and blackened shell holes, making it seem more than ever a no-man's-land.
With nightfall, Yank patrols go out into the Basin to scout out every clump and recon every hole that might contain a Jerry sniper. As they step into the layers of mist, you see only helmets and feet, and then nothing. With darkness enemy patrols venture out, too, and sometimes in the misty blackness the opposing forces come close to each other.
Sometimes they're even within talking distance, and the men tell of weird conversations that follow—snatches of broken German and bits of throaty English exchanged there in the dark.
By day it's almost all foxhole warfare—dug-in Yanks and Jerries cracking at anything that moves opposite them. S/Sgt. James Rutledge of Rising Star, Tex., who has spent many weary days with his rifle in a hole overlooking the Basin, says: "You lie in your hole from sunup to sundown, and the only thing that breaks the monotony is taking potshots at Jerries."
Some unseen artillerymen recently cheated Rutledge out of a German. He had a clear patch of ground across the Basin in his sights, and several times that day Jerries had carelessly wandered across the clearing. Each time he had squeezed his trigger and chalked up another score. "I had the next Jerry lined up in my sights," said Rutledge, "when a 105 made a direct hit on him and destroyed the evidence.”
One of the coolest operators in the Basin is S/Sgt Jack McMillion of Harrisburg, Colo. McMillion was making a report on the field telephone to his lieutenant when he observed three Germans advancing on him up the hill. With one hand he pulled the trigger of the rifle that lay across his knees, while the other hand still held the phone. The lieutenant heard the crack of McMillion's rifle over the phone. That crack dropped one of the Nazis and sent the other two running. Then McMillion completed his report to the officer.
A replacement in the Basin sector, Pvt. Gerald Gralinski of Milwaukee, Wis., got a close shave as an initiation. Gralinski hadn't had time to get into a regular foxhole. He'd scooped the dirt out in a hurry, and his hole was fairly shallow. He'd placed his pack across the front of the hole, laid his rifle across it and was doing a good job when a German machine gunner, got him in his sights.
The first burst tore Gralinski's rifle from his hands, crumpling it beyond use. Gralinski yelled to a sergeant in a nearby hole: "Hey, can you get me another rifle?" The sergeant's reply was somewhat profane.
Another replacement fared a little better. Pvt. Martin Krauss of Millville, N. J., a German-born Yank, found that his knowledge of German came in handy on several recon missions. Once Krauss was sent with a couple of other replacements to wipe out a machine-gun nest. They crept within a few yards of the gun, and then, as the other two covered him with grenades, Krauss commanded the Jerries to surrender, speaking their own language. They came out with their hands up, and the trio of Yanks took them back to headquarters.
Sgt. Dan T. Barfoot of Oklahoma did the same thing, but he did it in English. While on patrol Barfoot saw a machine-gun barrel poking through some brush and saw a Jerry helmet behind it. Barfoot pushed his tommy gun into the brush and yelled: “Come outta there.” “I’m coming,” answered a voice in good English, and out walked two Germans.
On another mission Barfoot led a patrol of 12 men through the Basin. After they’d walked a good distance, he noticed that he had 13 men with him. At the end of the column was a punch-drunk German soldier, dizzy from the constant shelling, who had fallen in and was marching with the Yank patrol. Without saying anything, Barfoot continued the march back to headquarters.
YANK 25 Feb 1944 Down Under Edition