Salerno, Italy -- September 9, 1943 -- The U.S. Army's longest World War II campaign began in Italy on September 9, 1943, when the Texas National Guard's 36th Infantry Division landed at Salerno, south of Naples. Operation AVALANCHE was the first Allied thrust onto the European continent. The "Texas" Division, federalized in November 1940, shipped out two and a half years later for North Africa. The "T-Patchers" did not take part in the Sicily campaign of July-August 1943, but instead were selected as the American VI Corps' assault division for AVALANCHE. On September 3rd, the British Eighth Army landed at Calabria on the toe of the Italian boot. Allied planners hoped that this would pull the Germans south, away from the main landing at Salerno but Field Marshall Albert Kesselring was not fooled. The 16th Panzer Division, many of its officers and NCOs veterans of the Rusian Front, remained at Salerno. Over the objections of his naval task force commander, Fifth Army Commander Lieutenant General Mark Clark vetoed a pre-invasion bombardment in favor of a surprise landing. Unfortunately for the Texans, the Germans saw them coming. Landing craft carrying the first waves of the 141st and 142nd Infantry were 300 yards from shore at about 3:15 a.m. when German shells began falling. Landing craft took direct hits, spilling men into the sea; disabled boats created a logjam. Machine gun fire greeted the men who made it to the beach, but in small groups the T-Patchers began fighting their way inland. At 5:30 a.m., much-needed artillery landed, and the 155th Field Artillery and the 143rd Infantry's Cannon Company repulsed an armored attack. During the next two days German attention turned to the British sector, allowing the 36th to consolidate and move inland as reinforcements, including parts of Oklahoma's 45th Division, arrived. But Kesselring was gathering units for a counterattack, and by September 12th six panzer divisions faced the Allies, whose units were so decimated by the fierce fighting over the next two days that Clark began planning for evacuation. But Allied air superiority, and superb naval gunnery, finally drove the Germans back. Salerno was secured -- but the battle up the mountainous Italian peninsula, where Germans held the high ground, had just begun for the 36th Infantry Divison, which was to suffer the 9th-highest casualties of all Army divisions in World War II. Today, the Texas Army National Guard still contains many of the units which in 1943 made up the first U.S. division to land on the continent of Europe.