Towards Orvieto

The situation on our flanks was, as usual, pretty obscure.

(NA 16233): Recce carriers of the 1st Cape Town Highlanders entering the gateway of Orvieto. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: 

There was some doubt where the South Africans were on our left; some thought they were in Orvieto, among them two members of Brigade HQ – Jack White, an LO, and Sinnock, the No 2 Signal Officer. In some previous incarnation, they had heard of Orvieto wine, and quite rightly wanted to get us some.

As they were approaching the town, they were stopped by some of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, an armoured regiment operating with the Division, who told them that it was unsafe to go any further. So unsafe was it that they said they were unable to recover a White Scout Car, which was about half a mile behind them, and which the Bosche had captured from them the night before.

After having a look around, they came to the conclusion that there really wasn’t as much between them and their goal as the Yeomanry had led them to suppose, so they borrowed some Tommy Guns and went down in their jeep to investigate.

They found the White Scout Car, with a German sitting in it, apparently waiting to be captured. They bearded this prize and started back.

They had only got a little way when they spotted some Huns in a house. They then drove up to the house blazing away with their Tommy Guns to the admiration of the Germans in the back of the Scout Car. After some noise and shouting on all sides, six Bosche came out and gave themselves up. They, too, were put in the Scout Car and Jack White made for home as fast as the thing would go, pausing only to return the Tommy Guns to the amazed and disconnected Yeomanry.

An interesting episode concerning an officer of the 6th Inniskillings happened this time. I enclose their account:

“On 15 June 1944, one platoon of D Company was in a position one and a half miles forward of the company, on the banks of the River Paglia with the task of blocking the road; for it was known that many isolated parties of enemy were wandering about in the vicinity, some of them nearly a platoon in strength.

Early during the morning, the jeeps had been further west of the position, as far as Corbara, and reported the village clear. 2/Lieut Foster, who was commanding the platoon, decided that he would recce as far as the village itself. He used a motor cycle for this purpose. Whilst still travelling quite fast, and just as he was approaching the village, he ran into a platoon of Germans with their heavy weapons and baggage carts. The Bosche was startled by his appearance but soon realised that Foster was alone and prevented him from turning round.

The German platoon was commanded by a young officer, 19 years of age, who was very efficient and had complete control of his platoon.

He had been of the opinion that he was travelling towards the German FDLs but Foster’s appearance served to correct his direction, and after abandoning the heavy weapons and baggage and destroying the bicycle, they started out in a north-easterly direction, taking Foster with them. All roads were avoided.

The platoon had no rations with them and lived entirely on what could be found en route. The peasants for the most part were friendly and willingly gave food, water and any information that was required. The whole party continued in this manner until midnight, when the platoon commander decided to lie up in a deserted monastery. Here, Foster was put into a small room with no windows, and an alert guard outside the door. This care frustrated his hope of escaping during the night.

Foster’s capture was not known at Bttn HQ until midday of the day of his capture and two mobile forces on carriers were sent out immediately. 56 Recce, who were operating in this area, also gave assistance, but to no avail. It learnt later that the German platoon had crossed the road along which one of the search parties had gone only half an hour before their arrival.

Next morning at 0400rs, this German platoon, with Foster, set out again. Their morale was very high, most of them being youngsters around 18-20 years of age, with older and more experienced NCOs.

During the morning, Foster tried to escape, but was unsuccessful; the attempt only resulted in the guard being doubled. It was now eight instead of four.

In the afternoon, the party was fired on by Italian partisans from a house, and some of the Germans were killed. The German Platoon Commanders immediately ordered an attack, which was successful, and the entire household of this farm building were killed, including women and children. After this, hostages were made to march in front of the platoon.

Later in the day, the party approached a village, which the Italians had said was clear, and it was not until a corner was turned that a British sentry came into view. The Bosche beat a hasty retreat. In the confusion, Foster was able to stay behind until there was only one sentry with him. He then side stepped out of their view. The sentry hesitated and then went with him, deciding that he, too, would return to the British lines.

When the Germans had gone, Foster and the German sentry returned to the British sentry, who sent them back to HQ of 26 Armoured Brigade about 20 miles north of Todi. The total distance across country covered by Foster since his capture two days before was approximately 50 miles. He returned to the battalion on 17th June.”

Read more here.


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