The 11th and 36th Brigades had been fighting hard for several days, the 11th Brigade capturing Catenanuova and the 36th Brigade working up the western and southern approaches to Centuripe.
The country between Catenanuova and Centuripe is extremely difficult – great rocky massifs over one mountain road between the two towns, and Centuripe, itself, perched on the summit with precipitous slopes, is ringed with steep hills such as 645 (664905), 664 (663907), 640 (653907), 704 (646913), 703 (644923), 704 (637920) and 611 (632922).
Each of these hills, and many others besides, was occupied by the enemy.
By noon on 1st August, the 36th Brigade, which had been reinforced by two battalions of 11th Brigade, had shot its bolt. They had been fighting hard and gallantly for several days; they’d had considerable casualties; the country was difficult and supplies were a problem; the men were tired out.
It was decided to put through the Irish Brigade, fresh and unused, to capture Centuripe.
Plans were made.
It is necessary here to “get into the picture”. After three or four days hard fighting in extremely difficult country; an original Brigade battle often becomes a series of Battalion, Company or Platoon battles. Sub units become mixed up and, in this extremely wild country, it is often difficult for the local commander to say with certainty that he is on pt 703 or pt 704.
In addition W/T communications, affected by the lava country, were extremely difficult and practically non-existent from 1900hrs to 0500hrs.
As a plan is dependent on information, and definite information at 1700hrs on 1st August was scanty, it was a difficult operation for which to plan.
However certain facts were known:
We held –
Salina Vignale (6488)
616 (6489), 623 and 603 (6490)
698 (645909) and possibly 704 (646914).
This gave protection to some of the main Cantenanuova to Centuripe road and the mountain track immediately to the east, which runs along the slopes of Lazzooechio (6590).
We might or might not hold –
703 (644922), 704 (637920) and 611 (632922).
But if we did not hold some or all of these features, they were being closely threatened.
But it was quite clear that an attack on Centuripe from the west was impracticable, if these three outstanding features were in enemy hands.
On this information, the plan was made. It was a silent night advance –
Right – Inniskillings.
Objective – pt 640 (653907), pt 708 (654912), pt 709 (658914).
Route – Lazzooecchio track.
Left – Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Objective – 711 (646918) and northern end of Centuripe.
Route – Main road to 645905 and thence by western slopes of 704 massif (646914).
Reserve – London Irish Rifles.
In area Mazzanoto (6389).
Probable roles –
(1) to capture 703, 704 and 611 if not in our hands,
(2) to attack via eastern flank
Note: recces to be carried out at first light.
It was made quite clear to all commanders that this plan consisted of two phases.
Phase A – the silent night march, during which:
The Inniskillings would seize pt 640 (653908) and gain contact with enemy at pt 708. This would uncover a bit more of the main road.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers to reach a forward assembly area between 698 (644908) and 603 (644908), and find out the local situation i.e. did we hold pt 704, 703 and 611 or not? If our troops did not hold these features, then the western route attack was off. There would be careful recce, a proper plan and a brigade attack later in the day.
Phase A was really a recce in force by two battalions in order to get more definite information and also to get two battalions within attacking distance in the dark. On this information, the second phase would be confirmed or readjusted.
(Note – Phase B was included in the original orders in order that all would be ready to act if “the going is good.”)
Shortly after first light on August 2nd, the following facts were clear:
a) Centuripe and both flanks were held in strength.
b) We did not hold pts 704, 703 and 611 and an advance by the west route was impracticable.
c) The Inniskillings were in close contact with the enemy in front of 708, but that a frontal attack up the precipitous sides would be a hazardous operation in daylight.
The Inniskillings were ordered to continue to threaten pt 708 and to send two rifle companies by the eastern route i.e. 599 (664904), 645 (664906), and 664 (663908) to menace pt 709.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers were ordered to stay put for the present, and engage the enemy in the southern part of the town and cemetery with mortars.
It will be realised that, in difficult country, recce, planning and movement of troops takes time. However, by 1230hrs, the following plan had been made
a) 1800hrs – LIR with the support of all Divisional Artillery to capture 703, 704 and 611,
b) 30 minutes after success signal off, LIR, Innisks and RirF to attack the town, with the support of the whole of the Divisional Artillery, as under :
i) Two Coys Innisks on eastern front to capture 709.
ii) Innisks (less two Coys) 708.
iii) RIrF to attack cemetery and northern part of town, and to exploit success to 718 (656923), 685 (661922) and 702 (663923).
It was thought that the plan (b) would take place at 1930hrs, thus giving some daylight for the fighting in the town.
This plan also had the advantage of full Artillery support of all Divisional Artillery for both attacks.
Actually, the attacks went according to plan with the following exception – by 1930hrs, the LIR had only captured two of the three commanding heights on the left flank, and the decision had to be made whether to wait till the capture of the third before launching the next phase, and thus lose daylight for street fighting or start them off with the advantage of daylight. The latter course was taken, as it was thought that the enemy on the left flank would be too preoccupied to affect the Royal Irish Fusiliers and plan b) commenced at 2000hrs.
This phase was successful.
The Inniskillings had been in very close contact frontally with the enemy from early morning at pt 708, and the heavy Artillery support at 2000hrs enabled two companies to get a foothold in the southern edge of the town. It also enabled the two companies on the eastern flank to capture pt 664, after stubborn fighting including a small (and local) counter attack, to push up pt 709 and to join up with the reminder of the battalion in the town by 2200hrs.
The Royal Irish Fusiliers pushed steadily on through the north end of the town, and first light saw them in possession of the commanding features 718, 685 and 702 with carrier patrols feeling their way towards their next objective, the Salso River.
Centuripe was in our hands.
It was a difficult operation in difficult country against a determined enemy.
The chief credit was due to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who bore the brunt of the fighting, and fought determinedly all day.