This was part of a much more ambitious plan. The build up was now complete for a general advance and San Salvo was only the first step.
Rough figures – a Brigade – the 36th – was to take the San Salvo ridge and then advance on Vasto.
The Brigade was to swing left, when the other Brigade – the 11th – was attacking Vasto and make for Capella.
From Vasto on the right and Capella on the left, both Brigades were to go all out for the high ground overlooking the River Sangro and the Bosche winter line.
A Brigade of tanks – with more to come if required – was allotted to us for this attack.
My Brigade had been pretty hard at it since 5th October – Termoli, Petacciato, the Trigno crossing, the battle of San Salvo and finally holding the Trigno bridgehead. When not fighting a definite battle, a large proportion of chaps were out every night patrolling with constant clashes with the enemy. The other two Brigades had seen little action and were well rested.
It was, therefore, decided to place the Irish Brigade in reserve for the large plan. It was, however, also decided that the Skins, who had not been so closely engaged as either the London Irish or the Faughs should take a share in the initial part of the plan, ie the capture of San Salvo.
Rough figures: The Skins were to capture San Salvo and the ridge on the left, while the Buffs were to capture the ridge to the right of the town. The first part of the attack was to take place just before the first light and from light onwards, the two Infantry Battalions were to have the assistance of a Regiment of tanks.
The Buffs had a pretty clear run through on the right but there was ding dong fighting for San Salvo all day. Elements of the Skins got into the town quite early in the morning and the town was pretty well occupied by noon, but there was a lot of tidying up to be done and the Bosche counterattacked a couple of times.
The Bosche had reacted very strongly to our advance and rushed forward quite a number of tanks to support some already in the woods south of the town. There was a good deal of manoeuvring and tank fighting and the enemy were not finally on the run until about 1700 hrs.
The Skins did magnificently but they lost some outstanding chaps. Hobo Crocker and Basil Hewitt were killed. Hobo was a great loss. Wounded and decorated for great gallantry at Centuripe – back before his wounds were hardly healed and hard at it at Termoli – he was a born leader. Whenever the fight was thickest, there was Hobo, right in the middle of it. Basil Hewitt was one of the best subalterns in the Brigade, with a long record of gallant service.
We were pretty badly bombed twice during the day near my Command Post and more casualties were caused by this than in the actual battle. I mention this as it was unusual, nowadays for the Bosche to bomb us – we are so completely masters of the air.
The large number of casualties was possibly due to this.
I had the unusual experience – during the second attack – of being practically thrown out of my slit trench by two Bosche prisoners. I took a poor view of this.
One bomb also landed in the middle of the prisoners’ cage. As it had to land somewhere, I do not suppose it could have been chosen better.
This San Salvo battle finished the fight for the Trigno.