THE AMAZING MAURICE BRITT
MAURICE BRITT BECOMES FIRST US SOLDIER TO WIN EVRY MEDAL FOR VALOR IN A SINGLE WAR
The odds of surviving until Christmas seem slimmer and slimmer. That November 1943, half way up a mountain near Mignano, in central Italy, with Corporal Audie Murphy and newly promoted Colonel Ware positioned just half a mile away, Britt’s forward positions come under savage attack. Britt knows that as the advanced unit in the 3rd Division’s defense of the mountain, he has to hold off the Germans as long as possible – so that his division comrades, including Murphy and Ware, have a fighting chance.
The Germans are hell bent on wiping out the American positions. It’s the fiercest, most unrelenting combat so far and before long Murphy and others are seeking refuge in a cave, pounded by accurate artillery fire. Something snaps inside Britt. The situation demands bold action, superb leadership. Once again, Britt wages a one-man war, determined to save his regiment from defeat. A private sees a bloodied Britt run out of ammunition for his carbine and then grab the M-1 of a severely wounded man so he can keep firing.
“At first it didn’t sink through my thick skull that the Germans were using our men as a shield,” Britt will recall. “Their trap might have worked, but one German eight-ball-there’s one in every Army-cut loose with his machine pistol and started screaming, ‘Surrender, surrender.’ I yelled to the prisoners to take off and then started firing myself. Most of the prisoners got away, but we couldn’t move. Behind us was an open field, which meant it would have been suicide to withdraw, and ahead of us were Germans. God knows how many. They seemed to be everywhere.”
According to one account: “He [Britt] fired about 75 rounds from his carbine, changing clips five times before running out of ammunition…he ran from side to side of our machine gun, firing at every sound and sight of the Germans; layer I saw Lt. Britt, slightly bleeding from his face, having run out of carbine ammo, grab the M1 rifle of a badly wounded man lying near me and continue to fire with it. He also grabbed some hand grenades and went ahead of our position, looking for Germans. A few minutes later, I saw him throwing grenades, disregarding machine-pistol bursts hitting all around him. I marveled he wasn’t hit. Concussion grenades were bursting all around him.”
A sergeant notices that Britt’s “canteen [is] pierced with bullet holes and his shirt covered with water; his field glasses case, too…pierced with bullet holes.” In all, Britt throws 32 grenades at the onrushing enemy and – using a rifle, a carbine and a heavy machine gun – stops the Germans in their tracks. He’s wounded but continues to kill enemy soldiers until they begin to fall back. The Fifteenth Infantry have narrowly avoided a humiliating rout. It is the kind of performance that will soon make Britt the first American soldier in WWII – and indeed in any single war – to win every award for bravery, a quite astonishing achievement.