Irish Brigade

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

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


With the Faughs

 This sort of “will we, won’t we” business went on for more than a month. It was not an easy life and when the weather became extreme, it was very hard on the warriors but, on the whole, the sickness rate was reasonably low. The Faughs wrote and account during this period which gives a very good idea of what things were like. I will reproduce it here:

“On Sunday 26th November, we (the Faughs) moved over to the Monte Grande sector and relieved the Inniskillings from San Lucia to Ca Di Sopra. The journey was uneventful and the Warriors debussed about a mile south of San Clemente – thence on by a route march. Clemente had a depressed sort of look and an atmosphere: it also had a notice – ‘Village shelled regularly – do not loiter.’ We wondered why include the second phrase.

Our new sector was an improvement on our previous plan – we had our mules and mule point at the foot of the mountain about 200 yards from Bttn HQ. The mule point could be supplied in all weathers by vehicle. The lay out was compact apart from B Coy on the left who held the saddle connecting up with Monte Cerere, known as the Bazzano neck. Their defence was based on two houses on forward sloping slopes – no movement by day, of course – and they also had a permanent standing patrol on a pimple called the “Hump” that jutted out in front of all our positions and was a first rate OP for all close in work. C Coy were on a high feature on the right with the main OPs and covered part of the approaches to the left hand coy of the Inniskillings. In the centre was D Coy on another high point and Bttn HQ beside them. There was a gap of about 700 yards to B Coy consisting of a long knife edge called the Rim. The ground in front of us was precipitous except for covered approaches towards C Coy and a finger of a feature called the Black Ridge running out for about 1,200 yards towards the Bosche from B Coy’s position on the Hump. Glowering at us across the valley, 1,500 yards away, was the Anzellarra Ridge – the main Hun positions, but he held all sorts of places this side of it including a very large farm block – Tamagnin – below C Coy. The opposing team was composed of the III Regiment, 1st Para Division. They were up to their usual form. They had been allowed to get away with things and they had become bold, cocky and impertinent – and careless.

As soon as we arrived, new plots were in the wind. Ours being to capture Tamagnin  and later the western half of the Anzellara Ridge, so our patrolling policy was designed to this end ie to achieve control of the ground we would need later for approaches and start lines and to interest the Bosche in ground we did not intend to use.

We began by making a regular habit of putting out standing patrols from D Coy in the direction of Tamagnin – mainly as a defensive measure and on the 28th, Colin Gunner took out a patrol to Pt 312 on the end of the Black Ridge, where he lay up all night near some Bosche trenches, which were occupied. The same night, Goert Coetzee took out a couple of chaps to lie up at the back of Tamagnin. They were going across the open behind the house when they met three Bosche and a small battle started in which two of the Germans were killed, while the other fled. Goert was unfortunately wounded and the garrison of Tamagnin then joined in the battle so he had to be left, which was the worst possible luck. The next night, we had some bad luck too when Reg Beaver took out a patrol beyond the Black Ridge and met a Hun patrol – in the ensuing fight, Sgt Howell was mortally wounded. Sgt Callinan and a section remained on the end of the Black Ridge – on 312 – all night. Earlier in the evening, the MG Platoon did a very good shoot on Careto, which obviously had results as Callinan heard screams afterwards. On that day also, a stonk on Tamagnin coincided with the entry of a Hun ration party, so it is probable there was a bag. There were certainly some results that day as, at dawn the next day, the German stretcher bearers and an ambulance were soon busy at their ADS.

The next evening was somewhat confusing. First, Sgt Trickett went out to Point 312 and Reg Beaver took out another patrol along the wadi north of the Black Ridge. About half way up it, he met a strong German force and, after an engagement, withdrew to report to B Coy. He then went out again to regain contact and met the Bosche, this time just below the Hump. A battle started with the Hump as the centre of events and grenades and schmeissers were used freely. Bosche were then found coming up the other side of the Hump. To Jack Broadbent’s intense delight, the Mortar DFs were then called down and this saw off the opposing teams. In the meantime, Sgt Trickett’s post at the far end of the Black Ridge was attacked in strength and, after a sharp fight, Sgt Trickett was wounded and taken. Tony Morris immediately took out another patrol and recovered the place, but Trickett, in the meantime, had been removed by the Huns. Unfortunately, Tony wrenched his knee on the way back and effectively put himself out of action. Con Pretorious also had a patrol out that night towards the house at Point 166 below Anzellara, which was without result.

One of the peculiarities of the Bosche in this area was the way he fired his MGs at night. He fired at everything and nothing, though he had some nasty fixed lines on places like the Hump and B Coy HQ at Bazzano. On moonlit nights, he could see us easily against the skyline and we had some nasty moments occasionally pinned down in the open. However, we eventually located all his guns by cross bearings and used suppressive treatment on them with own Vickers. The ammunition shortage in all types was acute these days and how it was to be used was very carefully worked out so that each Hun locality had its share – some of course getting preferential treatment. The organisation for getting the cross bearings was a trifle at fault until that expert gunner, Ian Lawrie, took a hand. As a result of the first night’s work, we had positive proof that the Bosche positions were all sited: a) within the area of Battalion HQ. b) in the vicinity of the Alps. c) somewhere in the Adriatic.  

December 1st was an interesting night, featuring John Beamish and Dick Unwin. It was assumed that the Herrenvolk would pay further attention to the Black Ridge after the previous night’s effort so Dick Unwin was deputed to grab one. The normal Standing Patrol was also put out on Point 312. Dick ascended the Black Ridge from the north about half way along it and immediately had friction with some Huns, grenades and pistols being used. Both sides then settled down for the night together. The Bosche began digging on Dick’s home side along the Ridge.

A little while later, a large party of Hun appeared on the other side of Dick amd also began digging. Dick lay hopefully until dawn hoping for one to swan near enough for him to catch. At dawn, both sides went home. There were five patrols on the Black Ridge that night evenly spaced. Ours on 312, then a large Bosche one, Dick, more Bosche, then our boys on the Hump. Dick nearly got three just before departure, who moved away from the remainder to relieve themselves.

John Beamish, in the meantime, had put up an extraordinary performance at Point 166. When he got near his objective, he set off some trip flares for a start, which evoked immediate retaliation. However, in spite of having lost the advantage of surprise, John went ahead with his plan and posted his support group under Sgt Moss to give covering fire with 2” mortar fire and brens while he led the attack. John went off and immediately set up a minefield, which he somehow survived, this, coupled with the enemy fire, scattered the rest of the assaulters, so John and Cpl Bennett did a single handled assault on the buildings. They met a Hun outside, whom John shot and, about the same time, Cpl Bennett was badly hit. John then threw all his bombs, phosphorous and HE, in and around the buildings. Five of the garrison were flushed and shot up by the support group. John then withdrew, covering himself with a smoke bomb. On the way back, he set up another mine and got wounded. In all, it was a very remarkable exploit.    

The 2nd was a sad day for us as we lost Harvey Shillidy of the 4.2” mortars. Harvey had been through many battles with us and was one of the characters that made the Irish Brigade what it is. Harvey was killed by a mortar bomb as he left his OP at dusk.

Jimmy Trousdell took out a patrol that night near Tamagnin and met a number of Bosche on the move just below the house – these ran for it after a grenade fight. A German patrol came through the Inniskillings that night too and made their way back via their Company nearest us, where there was no ordinary fight. The MG Platoon got a couple as they went across our front. It seems that they then got in a minefield as there were a lot of explosions. There must have been several casualties as we found equipment and weapons there later. The next night, C Coy put down some heavy concentrations with their 2” mortar battery in that area. Sgt Eales went out later and found five Huns coming up from Tamagnin. Those were engaged and ran for it but the show was spoiled by one of our men coughing.

About this time, we received an extraordinary letter purporting to come from Field Marshal Kesselring. It transpired that Basil Kentish sent off a Christmas Card addressed to that gentleman to see what would happen. In due course, it found its way to the Chief ‘I’ Branch at AFHQ, who had a sense of humour and sent us a highly original reply, which he stated had been received by carrier pigeon – our own Christmas Card having been delivered by a renegade German pigeon, which the Signals happened to possess.

Nobody could call our area quiet though some places got it worse than others. B Coy was the most regularly shelled and the second favourite was the saddle in front of Battalion HQ. We had a bad day on the 5th with seven casualties from shelling – nearly all Vickers gunners of the Support Group.

At dawn on the 6th, the Bosche attached B Coy of the Inniskilling Fusiliers across C Coy’s front. There was a thick mist at the time. C Coy got a 2“ stonk down very quickly but it was the MG Platoon, who really broke the thing up and got two Bosche on the way back. They only got fleeting shots in the mist. The next night, the Rifles relieved us with the intention of carrying on our policy and we went back to the village of San Martino near Firenzuola. We kept our fingers crossed that we not immediately be summoned back to fight our battle, which seemed to be on the point of materialising but never did quite. San Martino was an attractive spot – peaceful and comfortable – only drawback was the ford across the road to it which rose when it rained – and it became almost a submarine act getting through it. All the warriors were in billets and there were baths, canteens and pictures for them. It was a good spot. On the 13th, we returned after six days at San Martino expecting to fight the battle.

The day we took over, the Bosche attacked Monte Cerere with a battalion and were soon off with 40 dead and numerous prisoners, which was an encouraging return for us. The same day, Jimmy Clarke went down with a bad go of malaria and Pat Howard took his place in command of D Coy. The next day, out battle was put off owing to the failure of the Buffs and RWK in their attack on Monte Maggiore. On the 15th, we felt the Bosche had thinned out a good bit – both Con Pretorious  and Bert Parish had negative reports the previous night and we know that the First Para Division had extended their front so we did a probe to Tamagnin. Dick Unwin went with a reconnaissance group and a platoon. The reconnaissance group to find out if it was occupied and the platoon to take it over if vacant. Dick got up to the walls of the house but found it occupied. Not being the policy to disturb the peace at this juncture, the whole party then returned.

It became quite evident at this time that the Bosche had done a relief because an increase in the carelessness of the opposition was considerable. For several days, there had been a lot of movement round the groups of buildings on the Anzellara Ridge and our Vickers had lots of opportunities. About this time also, the Bosche finally gave up firing their MGs at night. On the night of the 16th, Colonel Graham of the 1st Argylls on our right, rung up saying a very drunk Paratrooper had walked into them with a bottle of Schnapps in his pocket to tell them that it was no good shelling them as they were all 15 feet underground. Apparently the gentleman was furious at not being allowed to return afterwards. The same day was also noteworthy for an allotment of 7.2 ammunition, which was used on Point 166, two direct hits being observed. Mediums continued the process during the day and the inhabitants must have been a bit upset by dusk as they started a furious battle amongst themselves with MGs, Schmeissers and coloured lights – probably shooting up one of their own ration parties. We improved the show with the addition of mortar fire.

Another blow befell us on the 15th with Jimmy Stewart’s departure on forced loan to command the RWK in 36 Brigade. That left Basil Kentish and Maginness to run everything in the rear of Battalion HQ.

The next night, the 17th, the SS Platoon were in the news. They took up positions along the Black Ridge at dusk and bombarded Antrim Spur – beyond Tamagnin – with effect firing over 60 2 “ HE. Later a German patrol came to investigate and tried to draw our fire. At breakfast time on the 18th, C Coy discovered a number of Bosche crawling through the scrub across their front about two hundred yards off. Ray Titterton promptly brought 40 2” HE bombs down on them so it is probable they were done in but, as by then, it was broad daylight, it was not possible to search, the area being a forward slope to us.”



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