In the early afternoon of 21st June, the Skins were directed on Pucciarelli. to the right of the Irish Rifles. They met a fair amount of opposition there during the morning.
I went to see John Horsfall about six o’clock in the evening. I had started off with John McClinton driving my Dingo, but we pulled up fairly quickly on our hocks when we saw what was coming down on the road in front, and changed on to a tank. We found John Horsfall very depressed at not having got on any further but why he should have been, goodness knows why because his battalion had put up a remarkably fine performance. When I had convinced him of this, he became as cheerful as his rather uncomfortable situation allowed. He was in among some wine casks in the bottom of a dilapidated house. An occasional unpleasantness lit on the road outside. One salvo of these knocked out my tank driver and John’s jeep. The situation was well under control now in spite of the intermingling of Bosche shells with our own, and I left him feeling pretty confident.
John Kerr had been in touch with John Horsfall during the morning as we had foreseen the Skins’ probable role already, and he was able to give out his orders for the attack soon after midday. He had A Squadron of Canadian tanks in support. The Skins’ zero hour was originally 3pm, but owing to the counter attack against the Irish Rifles, which required all the available artillery assistance, it was put off until a quarter to five.
There was a good deal of shelling in their areas as they moved off but fortunately most of it fell behind them. The tanks smacked up the houses the Bosche were in or where their presence was suspected in fine style. A certain amount of enemy machine gun fire was causing trouble to the leading companies. The tanks were good at dealing with these. Calls for artillery fire from the leading company were answered well and quickly. Roy Irwin (UDF), commanding A Company, was badly wounded about half past six.
By 8pm, all the troops from the anti-tank battery were sent up to help as only three of their own guns were now in action. The situation was very tricky. The Bosche in some houses, the Skins in others and some between them and the Irish Rifles. John Kerr, driving along in his tank, had a very lucky escape from a Hun, who fired at him with a Schmeisser at short range and cut the strap of his headphones in two. An enemy patrol tried to get into the village at 11pm, but was soon seen off.
About midnight, a jeep containing two signallers and a 19 set, drove through the Skins’ forward position and went on for about a mile into the German lines being held up by a Bosche sentry. The driver immediately went into reverse and they rushed backwards down the road zig sagging to avoid bursts of Schemisser fire. The jeep eventually overturned down a six foot drop. The driver and one signaller got back, the other was probably captured. Lieutenants Hogan and Roach and seven other ranks were unfortunately killed. Eighteen others were wounded. The Bosche lost 60 killed, 12 PoWs and a large number wounded.
We received orders on that afternoon for seven per cent of officers and other ranks to leave on an advance party on the 25th. There could only be one meaning for this – a rest area of some sort. It requires quite an extra effort of guts to go in really hard when you know pulling out is in the offing. That extra effort was not lacking.
At six o’clock the next morning, the Skins were counter attacked by about forty infantry and SP gun supported by the usual artillery and mortars. The SP gun shot into houses doing considerable damage. A house, from which two of our MGs were firing, was badly damaged and set on fire, burying the guns. Some close fighting ensued but the enemy did not get beyond the edge of the village.
The Irish Rifles had been having some patrol activity too.
The biggest scrap took place with Colin Gibbs’ company. A lot of German shells were coming over. Something had to be done about the Bosche still sitting in houses between the Skins and the Irish Rifles. The Irish Rifles described the situation as follows:
“The battle was by no means over as the Germans were in considerable numbers in and around us and between all our companies. They were in particular strong in two big groups of buildings on Pucciarelli Ridge between us and the Skins. While they held that vital bit of ground, not only were we both very insecure but any further forward movement by either battalion was impossible. Accordingly, we resumed the battle here at dawn. We could only spare for the task one platoon of G Company and three tanks under Lieut Sherriff, the whole under John Gartside. There were only about seventy determined Bosche holding the place. The attack started at about 8am with some spectacular shooting by all our mortars and the 17 Field. The tanks crept along the ridge through the olive trees and started to blast the houses.
They worked their way into the gardens and yards and in fact did everything short of climb the stairs. John Gartside then took his chaps in and systematically cleared the area up house by house and room by room. They then repeated the process further on until we linked up with the Skins. Twelve Germans were killed in the buildings, seventeen taken and very many more wounded. A considerable number were shot trying to escape through the corn. We lost one tank from an 88.”
A fairly large scale counter attack started to threaten the Irish Rifles but it never came to anything, as the Bosche were caught in the open by our defensive fire and suffered very heavy casualties. Their stretcher bearers were kept busy for the rest of the day.
The Irish Rifles story continues as follows:
“All the afternoon and evening was a continuous fire fight and, at every locality the Bosche was known to be in was systematically plastered, while he equally systematically shot back. At 6pm, however, the Bosche in front of F Company began to pull out and Colin Gibbs succeeded in oiling is way forward into a very important group of buildings five hundred yards north of the crossroads. Having got there, however, they were attacked by a Bosche company and a close range dog fight developed, which lasted some hours. The 17th Field did a masterly shoot here, which was made very tricky by the close proximity of our own chaps. The 3” also shot with great effect after very careful ranging with smoke.”