Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


Pescia/Ranciano

The 23rd June was a modified edition of the previous day on both the battalions’ fronts. Repelling counter attacks, winkling Bosche out of houses, keeping up pretty intensive harassing fire with three inch mortars and four point two inch mortars was the order of the day. Bosche prisoners later confirmed that we had done a lot of damage by this.

The intention for the next day was for the Faughs to attack Pescia and Ranciano supported by a squadron of tanks and a barrage. John Kerr and the Skins were to operate on their right and gain ground overlooking the Pescia River, while the Irish Rifles were to cover their left flank by fire. 11 Brigade were operating on the right, along the edge of the lake. The Faughs moved to a forming up point in the Irish Rifles area on the evening of the 23rd and launched their attack at 0530 hours the next morning.

The Adjutant describes it as such:

“B and C Companies led the advance with the objectives, respectively Ranciano and Pescia. It was slow, hard fighting and every piece of ground was contested. The tanks working with us, our old Canadian friends, did grand work in helping the forward companies on to their objectives. They disabled one Mk V Panther and knocked out two Mk IV Specials. Dicky Richards got into Ranciano in the late afternoon, after a suitable fire plan had been devised and put into execution. Neville Chance and C Company were in Pescia by then and it was merely a question of them holding off a couple of local counter attacks. Enemy artillery and mortar fire in this battle was heavy and his nebelwerfers were constantly whining towards us.

The Adjutant’s group had an unfortunate experience, which might have been catastrophic. These ‘warriors of the base’ thought they were well dug in and were getting down to a bit of “well I wonder what’s happening to old B Company now” when there was an almighty crash and a great chunk of masonry took leave from three walls of the house. Jack Phelan, the reserve company commander, confessed afterwards that he thought we “had had it” and that a Tiger was sitting on our doorstep. Jerry Chambers, the Signals Officer, was wounded in the arm, somewhat painfully but, fortunately, not seriously. The Adjutant was sitting in the first room talking to the Brigadier on the 22 set and was very rude and didn’t say so much as ‘Out’ and Fusilier Watson was knocked over by a flying cupboard but was otherwise unhurt. The general move then was downwards from the first floor on which we perched, but Fusiliers Clark and Morris sat on the top floor, while this distant tank put another three rounds of 88mm through the house. Very thick skinned some chaps. This was also the occasion when the CO’s jeep received a direct hit with AP shot, but was not put out of commission”.

The Irish Rifles played their part too and here is their account:

“The next day, 24th June, the Faughs launched their attack through us on Ranciano. F Company were in an awkward spot as their positions were dangerously near the barrage opening line. Zero was at 0530. The barrage was perfect and the Hun DF came down on us fortunately, rather than on the Faughs, who were doing the attack. F Company had seven direct hits and one carrier and portee went up. Fitz’s anti tank guns did splendid work and finally polished off the reminder of the Bosche that had troubled them the last two days, bringing down a lot of the buildings on top of them. 18 prisoners were taken here. In the meanwhile, our tanks were supporting the attack from Pucciarelli Ridge and they shot up everything they could see with Besa and 75. However, the effect was largely spoilt by the smoke and dust of the barrage; also our positions, being so prominent, drew very heavy open sight fire entailing frequent change of position. However, perhaps it had the advantage of drawing a lot of fire from the Faughs, who by 3pm had taken both Ranciano and Pescia after a hard struggle. Tanks at the cemetery had a very good shoot earlier on killing a captain, a CSM and several others. Meanwhile, Peter Grannell and G Company had moved onto the ridge north of F Company. They distinguished themselves that night as a patrol to the west captured twelve Bosche.”

To help the Skins for their part in this attack, two of their companies were relieved on the previous afternoon by the Northants. A Company of the Skins made good progress from the start, their chief trouble being from machine gun posts, which was effectively dealt with by the tanks. Soon after, seven enemy artillery fire had increased. He was using some heavy stuff. This Skin company was making quicker progress than anybody else on the right or left and so John Kerr used C Company to follow them up and watch their right flank. By 0930, A Company had reached its objective. This company had a pretty foul time and were being shot at by Bosche tanks and artillery but they did a very good day’s work.

The Faughs were to bear the main brunt of the day’s battle. They fought extremely well, meeting considerable opposition and inflicting heavy casualties. Their tanks supported them nobly. All thinks considered they had very few casualties, a total of 40, and no officers killed. In PoW alone, they counted 85.

Two amusing incidents occurred about this time.

A bold Fusilier from the Skins was bringing back a German officer prisoner. This Bosche spoke English quite fluently and was having a conversation with his captor. After a bit, the German enquired where the Skin came from. He told him that he was native of Dublin. This information caused the German a certain amount of surprise, and he asked why, if he came from Dublin, he was fighting at all. The reply was typical ‘Ah, we’re no particular who we fight for’. Not long before a rather similar incident had occurred where the reason the Irish fight was given as ‘Sure, we didn’t want to see the English beat”.

The other amusing incident which occurred happened with the Faughs. The hero of this episode was Fusilier Hobden, a native of Dublin, who was a 38 WT Set operator in C Company. During their attack on the 24th, when things had got rather confused from enemy shelling, dust and the general fog of war, Hobden had been some great work on his own, keeping his company in touch with the tanks. In the course of his activities, he got separated from the rest of his platoon. He looked into the house hoping to find them, but instead of his platoon being there, he was met by seven armed Hun, one of whom, at once, covered him with a pistol. Nothing daunted, he at once brought his 38 Set and aerial to the ‘on guard’ position, threatening his nasty looking bunch. Goodness knows what they thought he had on, but they dropped their weapons and surrendered to a man. One up to Dublin.



 

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