The Irish Brigade’s epic attack at Centuripe

Cliffs on the southern edge of Centuripe viewed from the south

The attacks by 78th Division on Centuripe were initially thwarted but the Divisional Commander, General Evelegh, now called the Irish Brigade forward to continue the assault. While 2 LIR laid on a preliminary attack on three flanking hills to the west of Centuripe, the Faughs attacked towards the cemetery and 6 Innisks’ took the direct route into the town.

The Skins’ official account recalled the events of 2nd August 1943:

“So it was painfully clear that the night attack on Centuripe had failed. No detailed brigade plan had been laid on for this eventuality, but we had been warned that it was a possibility. But there we were and there was nothing to do but to get on with the job…….

…The heat had now become intense and on account of this and the shortage of water, and the steepness of the mountain, it was decided to postpone any further attack until the relative cool of the afternoon….It was a desperate looking venture in view of the ground and the obvious intention of the enemy to hold the town.  But a plan was concocted to get into Centuripe by the front door, so to speak, since both the side doors (the spur that B and D Companies were on the right, and the spur that the Faughs were on to the left) were firmly barred.

Consequently at about 1630hrs, Battalion HQ moved up to Point 640, and C Company with artillery support moved forward, scaled a 100 foot cliff to Point 718 and succeeded in gaining a foothold in the town. A Company followed but owing to an unfortunate mishap, they were without artillery support and were fired on from both flanks. Major Crocker, however, reorganised his company and they passed through C Company into the town. Here, they soon encountered strong enemy resistance including a Mark III tank. House to house fighting at close quarters ensued, during which Major Crocker and Lieutenant Morrow were wounded from which the latter died. Major Crocker continued to lead his company and later established it in the main square. C Company was then ordered to move to the right and occupy Point 709, which controlled the ridge to the east of the town. This was done but the enemy somehow got between A and C Companies and the situation became confused.

Cemetery area in Centuripe which was the target for the Faughs who attacked up the cliffs

At 1730hrs, meanwhile, D Company supported by B Company, started their attack on the farm at Point 664. Over frightful country consisting of stone faced terraces, and in the face of heavy fire, Lieut McClinton’s platoon succeeded in gaining the objective, but was driven off almost immediately by a well organised counter attack. The ground was really impassable by day covered by accurate fire at short range and it was decided to wait until dark. A further attack was launched by B Company after dark, but it was found the enemy had withdrawn….

…While our attack was going on, the Faughs and 2 LIR with heavy artillery support were clearing the ridge on our left flank and joined up with us in the town in the morning. 

The town was reported clear of the enemy at 0330hrs.”

Lieutenant Percy Hamilton, who was with the 6 Innisks’ Bttn HQ, remembered:

“Late in the afternoon, the CO gave orders to the right hand companies to advance and the remaining two were to make straight for the town across the valley and up the cliff through the cactus….We were able to watch the fellows climbing up the cliff and getting to the first couple of buildings; someone on our side dropped a smoke bomb near them, probably meant to screen them from a Jerry, who had a machine gun on the right, but actually it attracted more attention than anything else. After they disappeared among the first buildings, we could only see odd figures crossing gaps and could not tell who they were…

There was a cemetery on the extreme left of the town and we had a very good view of a barrage brought down on it to assist the RIrF, who were attacking in that direction. The Jerry likes using cemeteries for cover; in Sicily, all the cemeteries are enclosed by a high wall, so it gives him a certain amount of cover from view.  Someone thought it would be a good idea to put a barrage down on the town too; luckily they did no harm to our chaps. Just before dusk, we saw a big column of smoke go up from the middle of the town and it looked like an explosion; we leant afterwards that the Jerry had brewed up a tank he couldn’t get away.”

Centuripe cemetery at sunset looking west


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