Irish Brigade advance to Randazzo in August 1943

From the 6 – 11 August, the Irish Brigade were able to take a much needed rest after advancing 25 miles and fighting three battles over the preceding five days. Other units of the 78th Division now took up the advance through the towns of Aderno and Bronte.

On the afternoon of 11th August, the brigade were again brought back into the line to break through the last few defensive barriers on the road to Randazzo. The Faughs took the lead in successfully advancing beyond Maletto, with 2 LIR and 6 Innisks in support, despite all the battalions being hindered by the difficult nature of the lava fields on the lower slopes of Mount Etna.

The Irish Brigade was soon to be cut out by the advancing Americans coming in from the west and by the morning of 13th August, they had finished their fighting in Sicily.

On the road to Randazzo.

Nelson Russell wrote this testimony to the Faughs’ successful final advance:

“The task given to the Royal Irish Fusiliers was a hard test, which could only have been entrusted to a few battalions. This battalion had:

i)  Carried out a difficult approach march commencing at 2200 hrs on the 11th August.

ii) Attacked at 0230hrs on the 12th.

iii) Fought a hard fight for 18 hours.

It was now required to:

iv) Disengage from a position at 2100hrs.

v) Form up in the dark one mile distant.

vi) Attack an enemy position.

vii) Pursue a retreating enemy for 5-6 miles.

It was considered that this battalion would be able, with everything going well, to attack by midnight. The RIrF attacked at 2230hrs on the 12th and reached the road junction at 0830hrs on the 13th August. They would have reached it sooner but for a necessary detour to avoid American shelling.

Contact was soon made with the American 1st Division, who arrived at the road junction about 0930hrs.”

Randazzo in August 1943.

Lieutenant Percy Hamilton remembered the Skins’ difficulties:

“We were supposed to be heading for a feature to the east of Maletto and were on the right of the Brigade. The going got more difficult and we had to start knocking down walls to get the mules along. These walls seem to have been made more with a view to using up the stones that cover the place that with any object usually associated with a wall; some of them were eight feet high and four feet thick, they needed a bit of breaking down. By the afternoon, we were pretty nearly lost and the lava was affecting the wireless so that we were completely cut off from the world. The last orders that came through were that we were to make a Chinese attack on Mt Nave, while the real attack went in on Maletto. We were supposed to see the other battle start and then start ourselves. When it got dark, we pushed on a little way and could see the Nave just before it got dark about two miles away, so the CO said ‘it wasn’t a practical proposition of war’ to get there and that we would stop where we were and make our position safe for the night.”

CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan faced some similar problems with 2 LIR:

“We were once more operating in mountainous conditions, on the slopes of Mount Etna. It was back to mule transport as we advanced across the lava fields of the very active volcano. The new rock was in parts still hot and plastic but in most places it had cooled and hardened into sharp pumice. This cut up our boots and played havoc with the mules’ legs. We were to make a dawn attack on Sperina and the approach to the forming-up point required a compass march in the dark across the lava fields. To add to our difficulties, the terrain was criss-crossed by stone walls.

Compass-marching is difficult in daytime. At night, there could be only one result. Some units got lost. The attack went in with the few platoons which had arrived on time at the forming-up point. Heroically, they took their objective. When dawn broke, the rest were still floundering in the lava beds. A message came from the commanding officer. The battalion had run out of ammunition and we were to take up supplies immediately. We knew it was nonsense and we grumpily loaded up two mules with ammunition. I strapped two boxes each side of my first mule which immediately rolled over and died. Sicilian mules were not as robust as African ones.”

Views from Randazzo.

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