The Irish Brigade advance to Catenanuova in 1943

After leaving their concentration area near to Cassibile, the Irish Brigade travelled across country via Floridia, Palazzolo, Biccher, Vizzini, Mineo and then onto Albospino, west of Raddusa, where they laid up in an assembly area, before reaching the Catenanuova area on 31st July 1943 just as the two other brigades of 78th Division prepared to assault the hill top town of Centuripe.

Nelson Russell wrote at the time:

“The 11th and 36th Brigades had been fighting hard for several days, the 11th Brigade capturing Catenanuova and the 36th Brigade working up the western and southern approaches to Centuripe.

The country between Catenanuova and Centuripe is extremely difficult – great rocky massifs over one mountain road between the two towns, and Centuripe, itself, perched on the summit with precipitous slopes, is ringed with steep hills…each of these hills, and many others besides, were occupied by the enemy.”

The view from Centuripe towards Catenanuova.

CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan remembered the journey northwards:

“As we moved through the countryside, we were struck by its natural beauty but appalled by the poverty of the villages and towns. Our welcome was subdued, as the people were obviously uncertain whether we were friend or foe. The Irish Brigade advanced steadily, passing through the town of Catenanuova. Here we became infantry once more and prepared for our attack on the centre of enemy line at Centuripe….

In his role as Intelligence Officer of 6 Innisks, Lieutenant Hamilton also recalled the move forward:

…We had to move to the north of Catenanuova, which had just been taken. I moved with the transport back the way we had come and then along the bottom of the hill on the main road. This part was exposed, and it was uncomfortable driving along it, as he was still within shelling range. We got across the bridge all right and through the village, which was very battered. We drove on a couple of miles with the O Group to where we could get a view north. There was a unit there, which had only just consolidated and the dead were still lying around.

We got a great view of a place called Centuripe, which another Brigade was supposed to be attacking, and we walked to a farm on top of the hill as if there wasn’t a Jerry for miles. He didn’t send any shells or anything to disturb us. When we returned to the RV, there was no sign of grub so we ate some grapes, which were beginning to ripen.” 

Today, the journey from Syracuse to Catenanuova can be made by autostrada via Catania and takes less than two hours. Of course, in 1943, the German defensive lines had been set hard south of Catania to ensure that the lateral road from Catania to Adrano, on the south western slopes of Mount Etna, was not available to the advancing Allied forces. Centuripe was pivotal for the whole defence network and would not be easily taken.

What certainly hasn’t changed over the past 71 years is the unchanging nature of the landscape and the view southwards from Centuripe towards Catenanuova.

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