Cracking The Gustav Line

Following the commencement of the assault on the Gustav Line on the night of 11th/12th May 1944, the Irish Brigade was moved to a concentration area behind Monte Trocchio, and started crossing the River Gari on 14th May. The Divisional Commander, Major General Keightley, had set four objectives for the brigade, naming them after English countryside hunts. In order, these were called Grafton, Pytchley, Fernie and Bedale.

The Irish Brigade’s assault began on the morning of 15th May with the Skins moving forward onto the Cassino to Pignatoro road. Over the following two days, the Irish Rifles attacked Colle Monache at Sinagoga, the Faughs moved north and east to cut Route Six and on the afternoon of 17th May, the Skins entered the fortified village of Piumarola.

Following the success of 78 Infantry Division’s assaults along the Liri Valley and the outflanking of defensive positions by French forces to the south, the Gustav Line had now been totally breached and this led to a German evacuation from the Abbey at Monte Cassino.


“As I have said before, various attempts had been made from December onwards to break through the Garigliano, the Rapido (Gari), Cassino and the Monastery. None of them had achieved more than a limited success and all had really failed in their object. The time had now come when this sort of thing had got to stop. This time, it must succeed right up to the hilt, and we were to be the hilt….”

Preparing for Battle.

“We left for our first concentration area at Presenzano on the evening of the 10th and, by 0400hrs on the 11th, the brigade was harboured there. Presenzano was not a bad concentration area at all in that it was well out of the range of shot and shell, and perhaps more importantly, the racket of our gun positions….”

Crossing the Gari.

“The order of batting in the brigade was the Skins, the Irish Rifles and then the Faughs, each with their own squadron of tanks. The first problem was to get the Brigade Group across the Rapido to a concentration area in the bridgehead on the other side. The Skins moved across first and were in position by 1300hrs. The situation all morning was still too obscure for the General to make a plan but, by one o’clock, I got some orders…”

The Skins’ assault on Grafton.

“Patrols were sent out after dark to the top of Massa Vertechi and towards Massa de Vendettis to gain information about our own troops and the enemy respectively. A patrol was also sent northwards but after going about 1,000 yards found nothing, except one lost West Kent, and returned. A patrol to the south contacted the Irish Rifles….”

Planning for Pytchley.

“By midday, the Skins had shot their bolt after a magnificent performance. Theirs had perhaps been the most difficult operation to lay on of those that occurred during the next few days. They were still up against the crust of the Gustav Line and information was very hard to come by. Their flanks were exposed. It was a great tribute to leadership on everybody’s part that that battalion carried out their difficult task so successfully….”

The Irish Rifles attack Sinagoga.

“The Irish Rifles’ task was to seize ‘Pytchley’. Their task would be a bit healthier than the Skins had been, as 11 Brigade was coming up to attack on their right and the Derbyshire Yeomanry were going to move west to the south of the River Piopetto….”


“Air photographs were of inestimable value during these and subsequent battles. They had marked on them and numbered certain obvious reference points that could be identified on the ground. My aim was to have sufficient copies of these for issue down to company commanders. FOOs, and troop commanders of tanks. These photographs were also held at the gun positions….”

The Faughs reach Route Six.

“The Faughs’ job, as I have said, was to capture ‘Fernie’. At the same time, as this was taking place, the Lothian and Border Horse were to operate on our left flank with their Shermans and strike out on our left front through and well beyond Piumarola….”

The Skins attack Piumarola.

“While the Faughs were busy accomplishing their task, which they did with their usual dash, information about the Lothian and Border Horse had been very hard to come by. I was in almost continuous touch with their Brigadier. He alleged that they were well out, a mile or two at least beyond Piumarola on our front. If this was so, we must obviously exploit their success and the General accordingly ordered me to capture the ground overlooking Piumarola….”

The Irish Rifles on the Piopetto.

“At this stage, the Inniskillings were put into attack south from behind the Faughs to clear up the Piumarola area, which was strongly held and included tanks and paratroopers withdrawn from Cassino. Our task was to come in on the left of the Skins and hold the river line….”

Messages of Congratulation.

“….The Commander in Chief, General Alexander, and the Army Commander have both sent their personal congratulations to the Division on its fine achievements during the past few days…”

Read ‘Advance towards Ripi’ here.


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