San Giovanni

Our task for the next day, the 30th May, was to turn east and advance on Ripi. The Irish Rifles was best placed to lead and it was also their turn. The Skins were to follow and the Faughs were to remain in reserve. It was obviously only a one battalion task anyhow.

(NA 15653): Major General C.F. Keightley, Commander 78 Division ( right) discussed the situation with Brigadier T.P.D. Scott, DSO., Commander, 38 Irish Brigade, and other officers. Copyright: © IWM. 

The Irish Rifles’ objective was San Giovanni, and to do what they could about Ripi afterwards. They had put an extremely good show during the previous night and their tanks were having a hell of a time getting after them. However, this seemed in no way to detract from the high standard of the performance, they put up in the forthcoming battle. Here is their own account of it:

“We were then briefed to take over the lead with our objective Ripi some six miles ahead. Mike Everleigh had arrived on foot with a promise of the eventual arrival of his tanks so we made our plot together on the top of 255, which incidentally the Bosche started to hot up at the same time. As it was, we saw quite a lot of movement in front of us, including a tank.

The squadron arrived at 1130 after spending fifteen hours en route. It was a magnificent feat their getting at all across those hills and everyone thought they were attempting the impossible.

Zero was at noon and at 1205, the leading tank went up on a mine effectively blocking the only route. It took the Pioneers an hour to clear the minefield and make a diversion and then the battle started in earnest. E Company probed forward covered by two troops of tanks and after the first thousand yards ran into Huns in strength on either side of the road and mostly in buildings. Ian immediately brought down a series of ‘Monkeys’, while Mike got busy with his tanks plastering each locality and building.

In half an hour, the opposition was suppressed and quite a lot of Germans killed while others bolted. Two or three SPs joined but one was hit before it could do much damage and the other silenced by artillery fire. H Company was then sent in to clean up north of the road to Ripi and E Company then took the lead. They got forward another two thousand yards troubled only a lot of inaccurate sniping. In San Giovanni, however, they ran into a whole packet of trouble as it was strongly held, so a full scale attack was put in. F Company broke into the centre of the town from the west while E and G got in the south end and some pretty ferocious street fighting developed, which lasted for over two hours, with our chaps working from house to house and the 3rd Hussars working in very close support. E Company finally overcame one strong point by setting it on fire with 77 grenades so that the garrison had to jump out of the windows – in another, F Company shot down twelve Germans in one room.

The Bosche made several attempts to destroy our tanks with their Bazooka rockets without success, one such party being blown to bits completely by a 75 shell. The town was taken at dusk and it took about an hour to sort ourselves out after the considerable confusion. After that, we pushed on to Ripi establishing patrols in the town and taking up positions about 800 yards south west of it. The opposition had been either destroyed or had fled for we had no further trouble except for mild mortaring.

Between 80 and 100 Bosche were killed in this battle, fifteen prisoners were taken, two AFVs destroyed and a third damaged, and a very large number of MGs etc. Our own casualties were fifteen wounded.”

During this day, the situation on our right was most obscure. There might or might not have been Indians in the distant hills. On our left, the 36 Brigade were forging up astride Route Six towards Torrice with the Canadians on their left. The Fifth Army were still going great guns and had swung up far ahead of us. The Anzio Bridgehead burst out about this time and two portions of the Fifth Army were aiming at a union. It was a sound move doing nothing from Anzio until our advance was within striking distance. The Bosche were kept uncertain about what we were going to do there and a lot of his reserves were contained cheaply.

In the evening, the Skins moved up to a concentration area behind the Irish Rifles with a view to taking up the hunt the next day. That night, Ripi was found to be unoccupied. Next day, we were told to strike north from Ripi parallel to the advance of 36 Brigade on Torrice. The advance on this day, the 31st, was characteristic of what the country can do. A few well sited craters blocked the only road through the hills. To find an alternative track was the very devil. It was very difficult country and the most that could be expected of tanks was support from one crest to another. The Sherman has an excellent gun and it can do its stuff very well indeed at 4,000 yards. The Skins met practically no opposition at all and, by 9pm, had clamped down firmly with their tanks harboured behind them.

That night was quiet and the war seemed to be drifting on. Some ‘Long Toms’ started up behind Brigade HQ, but this was really the only nuisance.

Mines were a serious business in this locality. AP as well as anti tank. That morning, I had a track carefully swept which I was bringing Brigade HQ along. I was going ahead myself about half past six to see the Skins. When I came back, I found a white scout car had been blown up where Rollo Baker and I had passed not long before. Paddy, too, luckily spotted a mine in his path just in time on another track. I do not quite know what he was doing there. I suspect he was on some rather doubtful expedition.

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