Raid on Casa Tamagnin

On 1st January, the Faughs came up and relieved the Skins for their Christmas break. For the first time, the Faughs occupied the right hand battalion sector along the road. Up till now, they had always gone back to the hill top so that they would be in their right place if the battle was ordered. As there seemed to be no further prospect of this, there was no need to go on with the complicated shuffle of keeping each battalion in the same sector on relief.

On the 3rd, the London Irish carried out a most successful and daring daylight raid on Casa Tamagnin. It was the same place that the Faughs had had a go at before but the technique was so different that there was no real risk in doing the same thing twice. The reconnaissance and preparation of this raid was daring and skilful to a degree. At the risk of repetition of one or two things, I include here the London Irish account of their most successful exploit:

“Casa Tamagnin consisted of two houses on the side of a steep spur, which projected at right angles from the Battalion main line of resistance, some thousand yards towards the enemy. Spurs ran parallel to this, one on each side.The spur to the right of the Tamagnin spur was higher and included Pt 342 and a subsidiary spur known as Antrim, both of which were occupied by the enemy. The spur to the left was known as Black Ridge and included Pt 312, which was always occupied by one of our standing patrols at night. All those spurs led down to a deep gully on the other side of which were strong enemy positions on the Muiano–Cereto–Anzellara–Pt 297 ridge.

Casa Tamagnin had always attracted attention as being a strong enemy outpost and patrol base, round which several patrol clashes had occurred in December. Pt 342 was also the scene of clashes. In mid December, an attempt to raid the house did not succeed in clearing the enemy, due to the strength of the southern house and a rapidly laid on counter attack by the enemy. The northern house was actually entered but the enemy remained firm in the other although PIATs were used on it. Field artillery could not hit the house owing to crest clearance but, about Christmas time, it was found that mediums could hit it, fire being directed by the Air OP from our own main line of resistance, the house could only be seen from exposed positions in the left Company area and from the left Company area of the Battalion on the right.

From 27 December onwards, preliminary patrolling was carried out, mostly by moonlight, to learn all possible about the habits of the inhabitants of the house. A standing patrol was sent out every night half way down the Tamagnin Spur and once stayed out as a sniper patrol until midday. Black Ridge and the gully between it and Tamagnin were explored and the avenues of approach were examined. The only lines of approach not explored were the direct one down Tamagnin ridge and the approach by the track from the west. Sniping and observation was carried out all day from the left Coy area. Finally, a reconnaissance patrol went and lay up for an hour at night 15 yards north of the northern house, using the route around the end of the Tamagnin spur. The Battle Patrol officer, Montgomorie, commanded all the important patrols. Full moon was on the 29th December.

As a result of these investigations, the following facts were gleaned:

– Two sentries sometimes were posted on the end of the spur above the house, backed up by wide awake men, who sometimes smoked in the windows of the house.

– Although smoke was sometimes seen coming from the northern house in the mornings, the southern house appeared to be most occupied.

– At approximately 1100 hours, a man was often seen in the eastern windows of the southern house, sometimes showing someone else the lie of the land.

– Antrim was fairly strongly occupied.

– Southern house had much straw in it showing through the cracks.

– The ground floor windows of northern house were open, while those of the southern house were sandbagged or blocked by bales of straw.

– There were two trip flares and one booby trap on the approach from the north within a short way of the houses.

There was a considerable amount of cover in scrub on the way down the gully between Black Ridge and Tamagnin ridge and there was a ditch like gully in dead ground from Antrim extending from a few yards of Tamagnin to the owner of the spur. It was in this latter gully that the trip flares and booby traps were found.

On night 31 Dec–1 Jan, no noise was heard in the house from a range of 15 yards.

Based on this information, a plan was made.

The intention was to set fire to the two house at 0830 hours on 2 Jan. It was to be accomplished in the following manner. At 0400 hrs, the main body and two covering parties were to move out into position. The main body and two covering parties were to move out into position. The main body consisting of one officer, one sergeant, two corporals, two bren numbers, two PIAT numbers, six riflemen, two stretcher bearers and one No 38 set operator moved into a laying up position at the “Corner” (the lower end of the Tamagnin spur). One covering party of one Sergeant, two bren numbers and a 38 set operator moved into a covering position half way down the Tamagnin spur from where an excellent view of the southern house, the top half of the northern house and the open ground between Tamagnin and Antrim was to be had. The Sergeant was armed with a sniper’s rifle. The other covering party consisting of one officer, two bren numbers and a wireless operator moved into positions during the night before on Black Ridge where they enjoyed a good view of the other side of the houses.  The officer carried a sniper’s rifle. The task of those covering parties was to keep the entrances and windows to the houses covered with accurate fire in the event of fire being opened on the main body. Similarly, a section of MMGs on the Lucca knoll covered the open ground south of Tamagnin. A single MMG was to be in position on the Rim by dawn to cover the house at Point 166 in case of trouble from there. The remainder of the guns of three MMG Platoons were to be ready to neutralise Antrim and the houses on the Anzellara ridge in case of trouble. A medium gun was to engage Casa Cerete at 0815 hrs as if normal housebreaking were in progress. A medium also shelled Tamagnin on the afternoon of 1 Jan, scoring four direct hits. A few rounds of field artillery were to be fired on to the Anzellara ridge to keep OPs down. Thereafter, they were to be ready to smoke Cerete and Muiano. The Bttn 3” mortars were to fire six rounds HE on to Antrim at 0815 hrs and, thereafter, be prepared to fire  HE or smoke onto Antrim. All these items of fire support were normal procedures which the enemy had been accustomed to during the previous four days. Main body and covering parties were to remain perfectly still and quiet until 0800 hrs when an assault party from the main body consisting of one officer and six men were to creep up to the farm; leaving the remainder of the main body in a covering position near the Corner.    

On the way out in the early morning of 2 Jan, the main body ran into a booby trap near our own lines made by a previous unit and suffered four casualties in the assault party. The operation was postponed until the following morning.

On the morning of 3 Jan, the raid took place on the exactly the same plan. It was a bright sunny day after a very cold night. All parties got into position safely and, at 0815 hrs, the assault party approached the northern house, which they entered by a low door at the end of the house farthest away from southern house. Up to this house, no sounds or sign of enemy occupation had been heard or soon, except a noise which might have been a tin being thrown away at about 0730 hrs.

No enemy were found in northern house but a “mousehole” was found leading to the second house. The patrol commander investigated this hole leaving a covering party of four in northern house and proceeded through it towards southern house. He discovered an entrance in the southern house opposite the mousehole, partially blocked with beams and straw banked up apparently to the roof. There was only room for one man to wriggle through at a time. A sound of stirring in the straw behind this entrance was heard and the patrol commander therefore returned to the northern house, collected two incendiary grenades, warned the covering party he was about to fire the southern house and threw the grenades into the straw in the southern house. The straw caught immediately and an uproar of shouting ensued in the house. Within two minutes, the flames had reached the far end of the house drowning all other noise. Some 25 enemy poured out of the house mostly from a window at the side nearest Antrim. So quickly did the house catch fire that it is almost certain some enemy were burned. The enemy were mostly unarmed and ran hard for Antrim followed by a scorched cat. One was killed by the Tommy guns of the assault party, while more are believed to have been hit by the MMGs on Lucca, who had an excellent shoot and who got sniped later very accurately for their pains. The survivors on reaching the small gully short of Antrim were very accurately engaged by the 3” mortars.

The assault party commander then set fire to the northern house and called on the wireless for smoke. During this time, running commentaries on the 38 set were being given on progress by the right covering party and the MMGs on Lucca. The left covering party only had a fleeting glimpse of the enemy before smoke from the burning house obscured their view. On the call for smoke, the covering fire programme was put into action. Muiano and Cerete were smoked by the gunners, a mixture of HE and smoke was put down by the 3” mortars on Antrim and the MG from the rim fired on Pt 166. The assault party rounded the Corner about 0930 hrs and when about level with the right covering party, the covering party on Black Ridge was ordered in. Shortly afterwards, the progress of the main body up in the gully, without interference, was such that the right covering party was also ordered in. The only enemy action encountered was one Schmeisser and one rifle wildly fired from the party that ran out of the house, an MG 42 firing a few un-aimed bursts from Antrim and the sniper sniping at Lucca already referring to. No enemy DF or harassing fire came down in or in front of the Battalion area. The PIAT was not fired. All parties returned without casualties by 1030 hrs.

It is felt that certain lessons are brought out by this operation. They are merely the normal ones in connection with a deliberate raid:

– Thorough reconnaissance by day and by night for several days before the raid was made by the personnel taking part with a study of air photographs and thorough briefing.

– Surprise achieved by a silent approach at breakfast time from positions gained in the dark. The Germans believe all British attacks of any sort take place at night preceded by heavy weapons preparation.

– Effective covering fire plan, offensively by snipers and Brens and defensively by smoke, if plans had miscarried.

– Accustoming of the enemy to the use of the same types of fire on the same places as were actually used in the operation.

– The patrol was sent out on the very next night after their misfortune on the booby trap in the same way as airmen are sent up in a new plane as soon as possible after a crash.

The degree of success achieved was not allowed for, the covering fire having too great a proportion of a defensive quality. Otherwise, the whole party of Germans might have been destroyed. It will be remembered though, that the information was to fire the house.

Order of withdrawal of covering parties and laying of smoke organised centrally from an OP with wireless and telephone communications.

Extra covering party of one platoon was ready to go out at short notice.”

Read ‘ Continuing in the Mountains’.

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