It may perhaps be better to tabulate the actions by days and dates, as the work becomes rather rapid from now onwards.
At 0630 hrs, the Skins and the RTR attacked the Colle from a new axis of our own – on the right. It was a hard fight. The enemy were in fortified houses, deep trenches and dug outs. The Tanks were held up for a long time by minefields.
However, the Skins got well dug into it, cleaned up the houses and dug outs methodically one by one, and then the tanks eventually got through. Their combined efforts placed the Colle in our hands by 1500 hrs. By 1700 hrs, a Squadron of Tanks and a Company of Skins had occupied San Maria.
The plan was soon made for our assault on the main Winter Line on the morrow. It had indeed been already made and only required a few readjustments, the chief being:
– The A and S Highlanders came under my command and relieved the Skins in San Maria and part of the Colle. This left my whole Brigade free for the main effort.
– John sent his assaulting Tank Battalion to the starting line by a circuitous route: the escarpment road to San Maria to avoid further minefields north of the Colle.
– The Irish Fusiliers were moved up to a more convenient spot for the assault.
We spent the night on the battlefield at the foot of the Colle. John said he was going to sleep as he was “fed up having his so and so shelled off all day.” As a matter of fact, we had had a bad day of it, as heavy a shelling as I’ve ever had. The Faughs were particularly unlucky, one concentration getting 43 chaps including “Swinger” Smith, a good chap, unfortunately killed, and Lang, their MO, badly wounded. Lang had been with the Battalion ever since Tanngoucha and the Faughs thought he was the best MO that had ever been invented.
I might say that we did not get much sleep. Our “So and sos” were shelled off all night.
The morning broke fine and clear and everything was set for the party.
The Tanks were held up slightly, by odd mines, but by 1015 hrs, they swept forward over the Start Line on the heels of a terrifying barrage as fine as I have ever seen and the London Irish were close on their tails.
It was here that our constant practice with tanks paid a good dividend. Everyone knew what to do and how to do it.
The Bosche were quickly shot out, winkled out or bombed out of their Winter Line.
By 1300 hrs, the London Irish had occupied the ridge from the Colle up to and including the town of Fossacesia.
There was a necessary pause for one hour and then at 1400 hrs, the barrage, tanks and the Faughs started on the last lap – Fossacesia to the sea. By 1600 hrs, it was all over.
The Bosche required new winter quarters.
It was a most decisive battle. We got much “booty” and about 700 prisoners.
I reported “booty”, which caused some head scratching higher up – everyone wondering what was meant by “booty”. The General quite erroneously solved it by saying, “The only thing that Irishmen call booty is whisky. He must have found whisky.” A grave injustice, as I was referring to guns and military junk.
While the London Irish and the Faughs were making great strides, the Skins sent some chaps with a Squadron of Tanks due north from the Colle towards Rocca, to cut off any Bosche making tracks for home. They did good business – getting nearly 200 prisoners.
The day had gone well for us.
30th November/1st December.
When the going is good – keep going. It pays a good dividend and saves many chaps.
By nightfall, the Faughs had pushed down the coast as far as a very deep wadi, about 1½ miles north of Fossacesia.
This wadi was to be a nuisance, as its course ran across our line of advance and was quite an obstacle.
The London Irish had also pushed in as far as Rocca – reported it held – and plans had been made for its capture early in the morning.
The Skins were kept in a reserve role, with an eye to our left flank.
The London Irish occupied Rocca and pushed across as far as the wadi, where it cut the main road half way between Rocca and St Vito.
The Faughs explored northwards over the wadi along the coast and the Skins, plus some Tanks, looked after our left flank between Rocca and Lanciano.
There was a little fighting and the going was heavy in the London Irish sector so that they did not reach the wadi until it was getting dark.
The London Irish spent the night trying to find route across the wadi. It had very precipitous sides – the night was very dark – and it was well defended.
Arrangements were made to force a crossing at first light.
The Faughs sent two Companies, under Jimmy Clarke, to upset the Bosche Line of Control at San Vito – a 24 hours job, five or six miles behind enemy line.
The London Irish found a way across the wadi and got three Companies over. There was hard fighting on this northern bank all day; it was heavily defended and the Bosche produced some tanks. We could not get our tanks across but, luckily, they were able to get a good fire position on the south side and prevented the enemy tanks getting near our Infantry. In fact, they knocked out two of their opposite numbers.
But it was a long day of attack and counterattack and nightfall saw the London Irish holding the far bank – but only just. They felt uncomfortable, so I pulled them back to the south bank after dark.
They suffered few casualties, but it was unfortunate that Sergeant Donaghy – a great and brave little man – was killed and John Lofting wounded.
While this was going, there had been great “doings” on the coast and considerable excitement in the town of San Vito. Jimmy Clarke’s two Companies were enjoying themselves.
After a long and very tiring march across country, they got to the vicinity of San Vito by daybreak. Day – a first class boy – got into the town with his Platoon, and there, for about twenty minutes, they had no ordinary party. Six miles behind the Bosche lines and the Bosche with his trousers down – in many cases, literally. They shot up troops, transport, MCs, armoured cars and everything they could see to shoot; and when the hornets’ nest was really roused, scattered into house and continued the good work.
But it was too good to last and this brave little band, lost more than half their chaps – amongst them, unfortunately, the gallant Day.
Jimmy Clarke had established the remainder of his two Companies about 300 yards from the town, well dug in, and ready for all comers. And all comers came. They had five counter attacks throughout the day, but could not be shifted. I felt anxious about these chaps and told them they could pull out any time.
They were only meant to be there for an hour or so before the London Irish joined them after forcing the wadi. But, by now, it was evident that the wadi was going to be a tough job and the London Irish would not join them for some time – probably not that day.
But the Faughs did not want to come back. They kept saying how comfortable they were and what a good time they were having, though, looking at the mortars falling in their part of the world. I would not have called it great comfort myself. However, it is very hard to resist such appeals as, “We got a ruddy Hauptmann last attack,” or “We’ve added five MGs to the establishment.” So I let them be, for the present anyway, for the effect they were producing on the Bosche must have been astonishing. Two hundred Faughs – six miles behind the Bosche – killing and blazing at everything.
We found out afterwards that the effect had been quite remarkable – the Bosche had been much upset, especially the coots making such a nuisance of themselves on the wadi opposite the London Irish.
It was decided to try a “find a way round for the wadi. It was difficult country; we could not get our tanks across and the enemy had some tanks on the northern bank.
So the Skins and the Tanks did a night march across the back lateral road, Fossacesia to San Maria, and attacked at first light along the Treglio ridge with St Vito as their objective.
Jimmy Clarke’s two Companies of Faughs withdrew to the station area – about two miles south of San Vito – where they were joined by the remainder of the Battalion. The London Irish were ordered to be ready to advance across the wadi when the Skins and the Tanks had forced back the enemy by their attack along the Treglio ridge.
The attack by the Skins and the Tanks went in shortly after first light and all went according to plan. By 1600 hrs, the Skins held San Vito and the Faughs and the London Irish were busy stepping up the river to Feltrino, immediately north of San Vito, so that they could push across as soon as darkness fell.
It was a successful fight for the Skins, with few casualties, but unfortunately Clarke, one of their very best Company Commanders, was seriously wounded in the street fighting in the town.
The next job of work was to take the line of the River Moro. This entailed clearing a lot of very thick and rather broken country for about 2½ miles north of the River Feltrino.
The Faughs were to clear the area between main road and the sea and the London Irish that area immediately left of the main road.
The Sappers sweated and bulldozed hard all night to get our tanks over the Feltrino. Rather necessary as the rate of advance was leaving our left flank a bit exposed.
The Faughs and the London Irish set about the Bosche at first light and, at first, three tanks, then eight, then twenty and finally about forty waddled over a very difficult crossing.
This was a very hard day’s fighting. We had lately been meeting quite a few of the enemy 90th Light Division – after the liquidation of the 65th Division on the Winter Line – but now we bumped into them in considerable numbers; and they fought stubbornly all day. It was difficult going in the thick, broken country and there were a lot of MG and sniper posts to be tracked down and eliminated.
Moreover, our left flank, though not causing much trouble, was a source of anxiety, as we had rather left the rest of the Army behind – I suppose the nearest troops on this flank were some ten miles away. So the Skins were stepped up to watch this left flank.
By nightfall, however, the Faughs and the London Irish were firm on the River Moro – Neville Grazebrook had blocked the left flank with the Skins – the anti tank guns were in position and two Battalions of Tanks were close at hand.
The Faughs had the stiffest fighting near the coast and had a fair amount of casualties – amongst them, most unfortunately Tommy Wood. Tommy was a veteran from the very first days in North Africa – a fine leader and a most gallant chap. His death was a sad blow to everyone.
The situation was now tidy – and we were ready to hand over the running to the Canadian, fresh, fit and rested and now about to take over.”