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. I had kept my ‘O’ Group with me until I could tell them what was happening, and so I held one of my few Orders Groups and put them all in the picture. It was still a slightly blurred picture; but at any rate, we had been given an objective. Bala Bredin, who had remained behind with me, went off to join his battalion after the ‘O’ Group.
Throughout the greater part of the forthcoming battles, we seldom operated with more than one battalion at a time and initially the Division was on a one battalion front. The Poles’ attack on the Monastery had unfortunately rather misfired. It had been hoped that by now the Monastery would have been in our hands. This was not so. That wretched pinnacle was frowning down on us with many a German OP concealed within its tumble down walls. It was smoked almost continuously and the valley was shrouded in smoke from smoke canisters. It is, however, difficult to deny total observations from such a dominating spike. The Poles had suffered serious casualties and had practically no reserves. They could only shoot one more bolt, and that bolt must succeed or the whole operation be jeopardised. The final attack on the Monastery could not, therefore, be made by the Poles until the threat to the Germans in the Liri Valley was such, that success would be almost certain.
The country to the west of the Rapdio was a mass of minor features, visibility was seldom more than 500 yards and often considerably less. It was perfect country from the Germans’ point of view. A tributary of the Rapido called the Piopetto ran in from the west just about where we were concentrating. Its bend to the north east just before joining the Rapido entailed our having to bridge it. An indifferent track called ACE Route ran from the Piopetto bridge, along the north of that stream towards Aquino. This was our axis. The main north and south roads from Cassino cut it, one to San Angelo and one to Pignatoro, and a certain number of smaller tracks also cut it. All these, of course, were usually mined.
The General had given us four bounds: ‘Grafton’, which was the Cassino to Pignatoro road, ‘Pytchley’, ‘Fernie’ and ‘Bedale’. Trust a cavalry general to produce names like these. We were to pass quickly through one ‘hunt’ to another. The Skins’ objective was ‘Grafton’, and the 2/4 Hampshires of 4th British Division were on their right. The West Kents were supposed to be somewhere in front of them. There was a gap on their left where 8th Indian Division was still struggling in San Angelo and below it. It seemed quite impossible at this stage of the battle to find out where flank formations really were – even their brigadiers were frequently wrong. This state of affairs made our COs’ job difficult; we knew better what the German dispositions were than those of our friends. The 2/4 Hampshires had been ordered to take Massa Vertechi at 1745hrs.
Bala Bredin had completed his orders by 1700hrs from an OP overlooking the River Piopetto from which he was fortunate in being able to see about 800 yards. There was not enough daylight left and the information on all subjects was so vague that an attack that night was not feasible. The Hampshires’ attack appeared to be successful, but reliable information about it was scanty. In the meanwhile, the remainder of the brigade was concentrating in the bridgehead west of the River Rapido. The Irish Rifles were established by 1530hrs and the Faughs by 2100hrs. Brigade HQ were in a deep Bosche dug out at the junction of ACE Route and the Cassino to San Angelo road. During those operations, only Tac HQ moved forward, and it was kept as small as possible and seldom, if ever, exceeded the size of the Cairo party. Sometimes for a short period, there was just John McClinton and myself. We usually had a tank and the old ‘ark’ that had been pinched from Kendal Chevasse’s boys in Goubellat in Christmas 1942, and very useful this piece of amour was.
I met Ion Goff and Bala Bredin at the Brigade HQ road junction and learnt what there was to know. It was not a very healthy spot with the occasional whizz bang and old machine gun bullets flying about. We were able to button up things for the next day and I gave the Irish Rifles their probable role.
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