Patrolling and Artillery Duels

By the beginning of November, the 5th Army was at a standstill and defensive positions, with their inevitable build up, were the order of the day. The problem of getting battalions out to have a wash and a rest in reasonable comfort was becoming vital.

 (NA 19783)In spite of enemy shellfire, every possible parking space in Castel Del Rio is occupied by vehicles of all kinds. Copyright: © IWM. 

On the 6th, the Skins went back to Castel del Rio where they took up residence in the old castle.

How to work reliefs and how to overcome our maintenance problems at this time. We were pretty stretched and it was not possible to arrange reliefs on a Brigade basis; if everyone was to come out for a bit, it had to be arranged by Division, with a fair amount of give and take between Brigades.

The war had lapsed into what the papers call “patrolling and artillery duels”. The patrolling was a difficult matter as it was so hard to move about without making an appalling noise, either from knocking stones about or, from having to pull your feet out of a bog at every step. The artillery duels consisted of destructive shooting at the few remaining houses by both sides and in unpleasant harassing fire, which one was inclined to meet anywhere from Castel del Rio onwards but mostly, of course, on the forward troops. Those two noble anti tank guns of the Faughs played no mean part in the destructive shooting. They had been originally got up to Gesso for the Spaduro battle and were continuing their noble work. They had evolved a tip and run technique from their early efforts while firing at Casa Spinello. The general method was to fire a few shrewd shots at the selected target then bolt to the basement of their house. After a discreet interval, when Hun retaliation had subsided, they repeated the performance. I believed they collected some gadget off a wrecked tank, which enabled them to shoot very accurately up to 6,000 yards. They certainly got 12 direct hits out of 15 shots on a Bosche OP house at Scaglia – some 4,000 yards away. How Pattinson ever got those guns into action there, I cannot imagine. They eventually knocked one out on 14th November and the other on the 21st. They had been in continuous action, and given intense annoyance to the enemy, for 31 days.

(NA 19915) The castle on the top of Monte Battaglia, the ‘home’ of American and British soldiers in turn for many weeks. Copyright: © IWM. 

There were some magnificent OPs in this area. Pieve, which was 508 metres and the top of Falchetto at 587 metres both gave tantalising views of the Promised Land. We certainly had excellent observation, but it was very difficult to make good use of it.

On the 10th, the Skins came back from Castel del Rio and came under command of 11 Brigade in the Travollata area. All the battalions had a turn at Castel del Rio and were the cleaner and better for the four or five days they were down there.

David Shaw arrived to take command of the Skins on the 14th. He had recently been fighting Japs and his stories were something new to us all. John Kerr carried on splendidly during the interim period as he had with the 6th Skins last summer. He had now completed three months in all in command which gave him Temporary Lieut Colonel and War Substantive Major status. Unfortunately, he retired to hospital shortly after David Shaw’s appearance. I had hoped that this was only a passing complaint but to my great disappointment, and his, it turned out to be serious tummy trouble and he was unable to return.

On the 16th November, a new idea started up. The Brigade was to go and take over the right hand shoulder of Monte Grande in order to allow the Division to do another side step to the left. 1 Division had taken over Monte Grande from the Americans, who were still easing across towards Bologna and 1 Division’s soldiers were having too long in the line without relief. We were to relieve one of their Brigades – the 66th, with headquarters at San Clemente and two battalions forward. The Skins were to relieve the 2nd Royal Scots on the 18th November. 36 Brigade took over our present sector, while 1 Guards Brigade took over from 36 Brigade. All this was in aid of a Corps plan to equalise the amount of time spent in the line by everyone on the Corps front.

On the 18th, the 8th Argylls relieved the Faughs, who came under command of 36 Brigade in their new reserve area at La Strada. The London Irish, who had been under command of 11 Brigade moved down to Castel del Rio for their turn out of the line. ‘D’ Support Group was relieved of their commitments. The result of all this was that for the next three days, Brigade HQ became non operational for the first time since the autumn campaign started and we retired to Rear Brigade, which had remained in their old location about a mile south of Castel del Rio.

On the 19th, I had a look around our administrative areas and it took the whole day to do it. The battalion QMs had their admin points in Castel del Rio and the ‘B’ Echelons were still back in the Firenzuola area. The Drums and Pipes lived with ‘B’ Echelon; they’d been away touring hospitals for the best part of a month and were all the better for it.

On the 20th, the London Irish had a dinner party in the Castle, which some of us attended.

Read ‘San Clemente’.


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