September 2023 will mark the 80th anniversary of the “original” 100th Bn landing on the beaches around Salerno, Italy.
The men of the Hawaiian Provisional Infantry Battalion left the islands for the mainland in June of 1942. Upon arrival in California, they were renamed the 100th Infantry Battalion. Not assigned to a larger army unit, it kept the designation “Separate”.
Formerly trained as members of the National Guard, the 100th performed exceptionally well during their basic training. Undoubtedly their proficiency paved the way for the formation of the 442nd RCT in early 1943.
Late August, the unit shipped out from Staten Island and set course to Oran, North Africa.
The initial Allied landings at Salerno on the 9th of September did not go to plan. With no preliminary arial or naval bombardement, German resistance was fierce. Eventually a beachhead was established. By the time the 100th arrived as part of the 133rd Regiment on 22 September, the bay was free of enemy action.
At the top end of the bay, the strikingly beautiful Amalfi Coast attracts countless visitors every year. They come chiefly to enjoy the stunning cliffs, colourful villages and deep blue seas. Unfortunately for the men of the 100th, they did not have time to enjoy all this splendour though.
Within days, the regiment was ordered to advance inland across narrow, winding mountain roads. They made first contact with the enemy and saw their first casualty. The battalion lost Sgt Takata (DSC) in an attempt to take out a machine gun nest on the way to Benevento.
Pretty soon, the 100th would be fighting a series of battles on their way to the Gustav Line. The names of the towns they passed may not sound familiar to most people, but they would be forever remembered by the Nisei: Sant’Angelo d’Alife, Pozzilli, Cerasuolo, Cassino,…
Montecassino and Anzio
No place in Italy invokes images of relentless battle as much as Montecassino. In mid-January 1944, the 100th was fighting in the first of the 4 battles it would take the Allies to capture Montecassino. From the surroundings of the abbey’s towering position, the enemy controlled the main highway to Rome. Part of the Gustav Line, the German defences included machine gun nests and mine fields. In the valley below, the dammed up Rapido River had created enormous mud lakes, making any crossing under constant observation and shelling extremely perilous.
The 100th managed to pin down the enemy halfway up the slopes of Castle Hill, halfway between the town of Cassino below and the abbey above. While it was one of the Allies’ only successful advancements on the Gustav Line, the Allies were unable to capture Montecassino.
It marked the end of the “original” 100th Infantry Battalion. While they had landed in Italy with 1,300 men, now only 521 remained fit to fight. And yet they did…
Replacements did arrive and the unit moved to Anzio in late March. With a beachhead established, the plan was to move on the enemy still entrenched on the Gustav Line from two sides. Only in May did the breakout become successful. The road to Rome finally lay open to the Allies.
80th Anniversary tour
There is a lot of interest in tours for the “anniversary year” 2024. Many forget that the 100th Bn went into battle in September 1943, making this year the 80th anniversary of their arrival in Italy.
We thought it therefor fitting to offer an itinerary that follows in the footsteps of the Purple Heart Battalion. From the beaches of Salerno to Sant’Angelo d’Alife, and from crossing the Volturno river on the approach to Montecassino to the landings at Anzio are all covered on this trip.
You will see all the important places and hear all the stories of how the 100th earned the moniker Purple Heart Battalion. But there will also be time away from the battlefields to enjoy the gorgeous Amalfi Coast.
Ready to join this tour commemorating the heroic efforts of the men from Hawaii? Register your interest here and see the full itinerary.