Irish Brigade

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

London Irish Raid on the Floodbank


On the 22nd at 1500 hours, the London Irish carried out a most successful and very well rehearsed raid. I will include here their description of it:

“The floodbank war takes a little getting used to. We felt that perhaps the Home Guard might have been resurrected to take over from us. They might know a great deal more about this sniping, tunnelling and periscope existence than us. There was a ridiculous resemblance to the stories of the last war’s activities.

For nearly a week, the Battalion watched and learned many things. It learned not to throw grenades over the floodbank from its established posts, it learned where the enemy snipers fired and it learned that the PIAT is an excellent weapon for blowing in German dugouts and breaking bridges. It learned many other things and, incidentally, expended a large amount of ammunition annoying the Germans and getting good individual weapon training at the same time. A thousand No 36 grenades in one night was no abnormal expenditure. Quite a few egg and stick grenades came back.

The Senio River, in this particular sector, is sunk well below the level of the surrounding country and has floodbanks twelve feet or so high on both sides of the river. There is a flat shelf about ten yards wide between each floodbank and the river and then a final drop of several feet to the river itself. Most of the way along the sector, we held the near side of the eastern floodbank but in no place were we established on the inner or river side. On the other hand, the enemy had several known posts dug into the inner side of our floodbank and, in one instance, what came to be known as the “Bund”, he dominated both sides of our floodbank. His presence in this particular place made this very awkward for two of our posts who, in consequence, could only be supplied by night.

It was decided to raid the enemy position, mop up the troops holding it and establish a post of our own opposite the enemy one and on our own side of the bank.

The story of the raid must begin with an explanation of the “Bund” which, through close association with the Company Commander of the sector began to be called “Fitz’s Bund” as opposed to “Ted’s Bund” farther up the river. The “Bund” was a floodbank slightly higher than the others, which ran in a semi circle out from the straight river floodbank and rejoined the bank about 160 yards further on. It had apparently been built when the river had followed a former winding course. It was in the middle of the straight piece of river floodbank, which formed the diameter to the semi circular Bund that the undesirable German post was located. There was a big gap, about fifteen yards wide in the Bund, about a third of the way along it, which could be covered by snipers from the enemy post. The other way into the Bund was over the top of the Bank, which was under constant observation.

A previous attempt to occupy the interior of the Bund had cleared a path in the Schu mine through this gap and along the inner side of the Bund, as far as a point just opposite to the enemy post.

Preparations for the forthcoming raid were commenced three days beforehand. Firstly, smoke from two inch mortars was put down indiscriminately all along the battalion sector at any time during the day. Secondly, two patrols per night went along the mine swept path into the Bund to make sure the way was still clear and also to get the enemy used to movement there by night only. Almost invariably, they had grenades hurled at them but little damage was suffered. Thirdly, a tunnel was started, to cut right through the Bund very near where it joined the river floodbank and so give another method of access to the interior of the Bund then through the gap. Fourthly, a party from the reserve company was detailed for the raid and commenced rehearsing on another bank about a thousand yards in rear. In addition, various activities with grenade throwing, mortaring and shooting with tanks in the area of “Ted’s Bund” on the left, kept the enemy’s interest centred elsewhere.

The plan was to be as follows. The raid was to be carried out at about 1500 hours when the enemy might be expected to be fairly idle. As he normally spent most of the night shooting off his Spandaus and throwing grenades, he had to sleep sometime. The assault and covering parties would enter the Bund via the tunnel and line up under the bank opposite where the enemy post was situated. At three minutes to zero, large smoke canisters would be lit and thrown over the bank at six points along the Battalion sector. At one minute to zero, the artillery and mortars opened up on targets along the enemy bank and continued until ten minutes after zero. Fire on bank targets immediately across the river from the post to be raided ceased at zero. Snipers and machine guns stationed on the highest part of the bank of the Bund opened up at zero on known enemy positions. Snipers were told to be especially watchful when the smoke cleared. A diversion was staged at “Ted’s Bund” three minutes before zero, where a three inch mortar firing at about 150 yards range using the primary and one secondary only in the bombs, battered a German position in the back of our floodbank while a tank ran up a ramp on to our floodbank and shot at anything it would see on the far bank. All along the Battalion front, liberal use was also to be made of two inch mortar and PIAT bombs for spraying the enemy bank.

Rehearsals went well and no one believed the assault party when they talked about the whole thing being over in one minute. Two battalion pioneers were detailed for the job of laying a charge on the enemy footbridge over the river behind their post. Air photographs gave very detailed information about the position and showed no wire on the inner side of the bank at the selected spot. A mine clearing party went out night and it was estimated that there was only a stretch of about feet at the top of the bank, which might be mined. As Germans had been seen in that area by day, this risk was accepted. Almost everywhere else, the enemy side of our bank was heavily mined and wired with low stake wire.

The tunnellers had an exciting time. Three men worked on the tunnel and, at midnight on the raid, it still had not broken out into the Bund. We were also faced with the problem of how to disguise the mouth of it during the nine hours of daylight. At 0430 hours, “Fitz” himself phoned up the Commanding Officer to inform him that that the tunnel was through, not to the Bund but into a German dug out on the river side of the river floodbank. A short flap ensued, after which this information was discredited and it was found that the tunnel was through but luckily to an old German dugout inside the Bund. This was fine luck and shelved the necessity for disguising the exit. The tunnellers, after working from 0800 hours until 0400 hours and nearly getting buried in the loose sandy soil whenever a shell went off nearby, retired to bed.

From 0900 until 1030 hours, another short range three inch mortar pounded the raid’s objective with forty bombs and thereafter the post was carefully disregarded until the afternoon.

The smoke and fire plan went down exactly on time. An observer, from a factory behind the lines, remarked that it was just as if a button had been pressed. The 25 pounder shells burst along the far floodbank with great accuracy, being fired in enfilade along the various stretches of the river.

The raid party filtered through the tunnel and lined the bank. Each man, just before zero, threw over the bank, one smoke grenade and one home made bomb consisting of a Bofors shell case packed with explosive. At zero, the covering party, consisting of an officer and two men, got on top of the bank, whilst the assault party of a corporal, five riflemen and two pioneers, rushed over the top at the selected spot. Inside one minute, the assault party was back, having captured five, killed one and wounded three Germans. The pioneers and covering party were back seconds later, the pioneer having laid his charge after getting lost in the smoke. Four minutes after zero, the prisoners were appearing out of the rear end of the tunnel. Several enemy machine guns opened up, most of them too late and also merely fired blind into the smoke. Another section was already digging the new post while pioneers prodded the ground feverishly for mines and a signaller ran out a line. Later, German stretcher bearers were seen on the other side of the bank carting off their dead and wounded. The prisoners, some of whom were a pale green colour with fear, had no idea how this thing had happened to them. At “Ted’s Bund”, the diversion had more than ordinary success and all periscopes reported at least three more stretcher cases being carted away across a footbridge. The snipers had a busy time with three certain hits.

And so the Bund settled down to its new masters. Dugouts grew and flourished, periscopes sprouted and a place that yesterday one had peered at with bated breath through a periscope became part and parcel of the normal life of the sector. The Germans never tried to re-take the area of the new post and so the post was able, by next morning, to report that phrase, well worn by soldiers of the Po Valley, ‘Normal floodbank activity.’ “



 

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