An Interview with Roy Hanna
I was a platoon leader of a machine gun platoon in Headquarters Company of the 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR). We'd been on the beachhead for several days, and I Company was on a defensive position; they had just fallen back from the front line. They had lost all eight of their officers and about 40% of their men. Lt. Colonel Freeman, our Battalion CO, called me over and said that I Company needs to be taken into an attack. He was sending me down there to take over I Company. I knew most of the people in the battalion since I was attached to them from time to time as machine gun support. I went down and withdrew I Company back behind a railroad track, as a matter of fact, and I lined them up and said to them, "Here's what we are going to do." I said to them that H Company had gotten themselves surrounded and were pinned down by Germans. I said that Colonel Freeman had directed us to launch a diversionary counter attack on the right flank of the German position so that H Company could get out of there. Next, for the first time and only time in my battle experience, I had the men fixed bayonets.
What were the reactions of the men when you gave that order?
The men pretty much looked at me blankly and put the bayonets on their guns (laugh). We were a pretty disciplined outfit and when you gave an order to paratroopers they responded. I started to lead these men in the general area of the right flank when we were starting our attack. I led these men up towards farmhouse, in the general area of the right flank, where the Germans were.
At Anzio, at that time, we were being shelled almost constantly. Again it was one of those mismanaged areas where we were not sent in with enough troops to do the job that needed to be done. So we were pretty well spread out. We couldn't advance far; the Germans had brought several divisions in and they had the beachhead surrounded. They shelled it, mortar fired it, and 88'd us. It wasn't a pleasant place.
As we moved forward we were drawing a lot of mortar, rifle, and artillery fire. Off to the side, one of our tank destroyers was hit. I sent one of the platoons on the left side of the position we were attacking and the rest of us attacked the old farmhouse that the Germans were using as an observation post. We tossed grenades in the windows, and so forth, and we took that position. About this time I saw our platoon coming up around the side of the hill, the one that I had sent out there, and I remember, from the second story in the house, I could see a (German) machine gun position. So I ran out along side the hedgerow to warn the platoon before they ran into the machine gun. I ran out by the hedgerow. That is where I was shot. It didn't touch bone, it didn't knock me down, so I warned them and pivoted around and ran back towards the house that we captured. From there on my, memory is rather vague because every once in a while I'd wake up on the ground. It was primarily because of oxygen depravation (I would learn later that it was because my right lung was collapsed).
I would wake up on the ground and get up and go again; this was adrenaline not bravery. I proceeded to lead the attack. As we moved out across the field, now we learned that the Germans had turned against us, so to speak. We got into several firefights. At that point I got word that H Company (the surrounded company) got out so I was directed to come on back. It was dark and we withdrew back to our original positions. I remember German tracers going up over our heads as we withdrew beside a destroyed American tank destroyer. I was put on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a British tent hospital were I remained for three days. From there I spent 62 days in a hospital in Naples. Later I rejoined the 504 in England.*
Describe what it was like to be at Anzio.
Well let me start at the beginning. As we went into Anzio as LCI's, we encountered no resistance at all except for German planes which had air superiority. So they would come over and strafe us some; drop a few bombs. But there was no ground resistance whatsoever. We waited ashore and got into defensive positions and waited for an attack. There was no ground resistance whatsoever; it was a big surprise. We deployed around an area called the Mussolini Canal and dug in. From that point on the Germans started bringing forces in and we had quite a few firefights. We lost quite a few men along the Mussolini Canal. We then moved to the northwest sector of the beachhead and were attached to the British. From there on it was hell. We were moving forward and backward and backward and forward as they were throwing artillery at us and tanks. We would have to dig in. We did a lot of patrolling. The darn tanks would run up at a distance from us. We, of course, were supported by armor and tank destroyers, also. They would come over and stick their noses over a little hill or railroad track and fire point blank in our direction. We would dig in and lie flat on our stomachs and wait for our tank destroyers to move in.
During the fighting on the beachhead, we (the regiment) were spread out too far. Sometimes there wasn't even contact between platoons. At one time we were supporting the British as reserve. As they were withdrawing, they went to, I guess, what was a "plan B", and we had to stop the Germans. The British moved back through us. We fired and we had enough fire power to stop the German attack. We attacked a factory area and it was pretty much hand-to-hand fighting with the Germans. I sort of felt like I was in a movie. I was carrying a Tommy Gun at the time as we assaulted the Germans. These are things that I just sort of wiped out of my mind for years until this conversation.
*Lt. Hanna won the DSC for this action.
Interview with Roy Hanna by Patrick O'Donnell 11/98