The 3rd Division, under the command of Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott, was given the task of capturing Casablanca. The 3rd Division embarked aboard transport ships and sailed directly from America to Morocco in what would become the longest sea voyage preceding an amphibious landing.
On November 8, 1942, the 3rd Infantry Division stormed ashore at Casablanca supported by 400 ships and 1,000 aircraft. The invasion was a complete surprise and the 3rd Division quickly established their beachhead but the French forces fought back bitterly. For three days, the American fought the French forces until finally, the French agreed to a cease fire and joined the Allied forces. With Casablanca secured, the Allies could now move men and materiel into the Mediterranean Sea without fear of the Straights of Gibraltar being sealed off.
The Allies were prepared for this and the Germans quickly encountered a British blocking force which stopped the German drive. After a brutal force march, American Artillery was brought forward and began to pound the German forces. Fearing that a large attack was imminent on the Mareth line, the Germans withdrew to their positions. On March 17, the 3rd Division, now part of the US II Corps, launched a diversionary attack to the rear of the Mareth line while the British Eighth Army assaulted the line in force. Two weeks later, the American and British forces linked up and by the end of April had captured the port cities of Bizerte and Tunis. On May 10, the last of the German and Italian forces surrendered and the Allies controlled all of North Africa. The 3rd Division got little rest as they were ordered to prepare for another amphibious assault.
The landing was complicated by soft sand and shifting sandbars. Numerous landing craft became stranded and the soldiers were forced to wade ashore. The 3rd Division met only light resistance on their beaches which was quickly defeated. With their beachhead secure, the 3rd Division moved inland and captured their first objectives within hours. After the American 7th Army had captured its objectives, they were ordered to stop at a key highway and relinquish it to the British 8th Army who was given priority for capturing the city of Messina. The commander of the 7th Army, Lt. Gen. George Patton, did not like being relegated to protecting the British flanks, convinced the operation commander to authorize a "Reconnaissance in force" to the west and the city of Agriento. By July 15, Agriento had been captured by the 3rd Division and Patton was authorized to continue west and capture Palermo.
Patton organized the 2nd Armored, 82nd Airborne and the 3rd Infantry Division into a provisional Corps and sent them on a 100 mile drive to Palermo, the capital of Sicily. After three days of house-to-house fighting, Palermo fell to the Americans and 53,000 Italian soldiers were captured. With this stunning victory, the Allies controlled half of Sicily.
The 7th Army now received orders to advance on Messina. They would attack from the West along the north of Sicily while the British attacked north along the east coast. Messina was heavily defended by 4 German Divisions and was surrounded by rugged terrain and the Caronie mountains. The 7th Army advanced along Highway 113 with the 1st Infantry and the 45th Infantry Divisions in the lead and the 3rd Division in support. After the 45th Division captured "Bloody Ridge" outside of Santo Stafano, the 3rd Division was brought forward and took over the advance. The Americans continued to attack the German positions and each objective was taken only after fierce battles. The 3rd Division faced it greatest oppostion when it attacked San Fratello. The German forces, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, was deeply entrenched along a steep ridgeline and could not be driven out. On August 3, the 3rd Division began a series of attacks against San Fratello but none were successful. Gen. Patton ordered an amphibious landing to flank the German position.
On August 8, the 2nd Battalion 30th Infantry, reinforced with two batteries of artillery and a platoon of tanks, landed at Saint Agata, 3 miles behind San Fratello. The landing caught the Germans by surprise and they were completely cut off from escape. Unfortunately the bulk of the German forces had already withdrawn the previous night but the 3rd Division captured over 1,000 POWs. Gen Patton deperately wanted to trap and detsory the 29th Panzer Division and on August 11th, he sent the 30th Infantry on another Amphibious end-around. The second landing worked and the 29th was completely surrounded. The 30th Infantry was too light a force however to keep them bottled up and by the time the rest of the 3rd Division lined up, the 29th had escaped again. The 7th Army continued its advance on Messina and encountered dozens of blown bridges and heavy minefields. The Army Engineers worked feverishly to clear the way but rhe Americans could not catch the evacuating German forces. On August 17, the 7th Infantry of the 3rd Division entered Messina just 2 hours after the last German transport ships had left for Italy. Sicily was secured, in large part due to the 3 amphibious landings of the 3rd Division.
The 3rd Division was given a brief rest and resupply while they prepared for the next invasion. Sicily was always meant to be a stepping stone to Italy so it was no surprise when the 3rd Division received its orders. They were going to take Naples.
For the next week, the Allies brought in supplies and troops but made no advances. This delay allowed the Germans to transfer thousands of troops to the Anzio area. The Americans, under the command of Maj. Gen John Lucas, did not know that the roads from Anzio to Rome were virtually undefended and a bold strike inland might have allowed the capture of Rome with few casualties. Gen Lucas erred on the side of caution and held his forces back while the Germans reinforced their units with 8 Divisions with 5 more on the way and waited.
On January 30 the 3rd Division, reinforced by 3 Battalions of Rangers, launched their assault on Cisterna. The Rangers were within 800 yards of Cisterna when they were ambushed by an entire German Motorized Infantry Division. The 15th Infantry Regiment was sent to try and rescue the Rangers. They were not in time as the Rangers were driven out into the open by a German Armored Division. The Rangers had no anti-tank weapons and were quickly cut down. Outof 767 men, only 6 Rangers survived. The 7th and 15th Infantry continued the assualt on Cisterna against heavy opposition. The Germans were deeply entrenched and after 16 hours of fighting, the 3rd Division was still a mile away. After learning that more reinforcements were on the way, the 3rd Division was again ordered to hold in place and dig in.
On February 23, Maj. Gen Truscott replaced Maj. Gen Lucas as the VI Corps commander. On February 29, the Germans launched an offensive against the 3rd Division in the Citerna sector of the beachhead with 2 infantry and 2 armored divisions. Truscott had prepared for this by reinforcing the 3rd Division's positions with massed artillery. The German attacks were quickly stopped by the artillery and mortar raining down on them and the entrenched 3rd Division troops. Despite repeated attacks, the Germans could not penetrate the American line. The German attacks continued along the 3rd Division's lines and the 7th and 15th Infantry suffered heavy casualties but by March 4, the Germans could not mass enough forces to attack. In the final assault on March 4, the Germans lost over 3,500 men and several dozen tanks.
The price for Cisterna was heavy. The 1st Armored Division lost 100 tanks in the first day. VI Corps suffered over 4,000 casualties. With Cisterna secured, the 3rd Division was ordered to link up with the 1st Special Service Force and advance on Valmontone where they would attempt to destroy the German 10th Army. Valmontone was captured by the 3rd Division but the 10th Army escaped north. VI Corps rejoined the 5th Army and was ordered to advance on Rome. The 3rd Division, along with the 85th and 88th Infantry Divisions, reached the outskirts of Rome on June 4, 1944 encountering only light resistance. On June 5, the 5th Army entered Rome and was met by throngs of jubilant Italians. The 5th Army remained in Rome only a few days, then continued north after the retreating Germans.
The 7th Army continued its drive into France and then turned for its next objective, the Rhine river. The 7th Army and the 1st French Army drove east and reached the Rhine at Alsace. Because of logistical problems, the 7th Army was ordered to hold their positions and dig in. The next month, the Germans launched their Ardennes Offensive. The 7th Army was ordered to remain in place to ensure that the German units facing them at the Rhine could not be pulled out to reinforce the German offensive. For four months, the 3rd Division and the rest of the 7th Army conducted patrols and numerous raids along their front at the Rhine river.
The 3rd Division remained in Germany for several months serving occupation duty. They were relived at the end of 1945 and in early 1946, returned to the United States. During World War Two, 36 soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division were awarded the Medal of Honor and 71 the Distinguished Service Cross.