The chief problems of this crossing were:
1. The Sappers required 24 hours, which must include 12 hours of daylight, to make a crossing.
2. There were precipitous, rocky sides on both banks of the river.
3. The fast flowing river was about 3 to 4 feet deep, and quite an obstacle.
4. The enemy had extremely good observation.
5. He was holding the northern bank of the river.
However, plans for the crossing of the Simeto had been made at the same time as the plan for the crossing of the Salso, on the principle of being ready for the “good going” programme. All that was now necessary was a close recce and coordinating the information gained by the two battalions in contact with the enemy.
Note: It may be of interest to commanders that a close recce before 0900hrs is seldom interrupted when the Bosche is on the wrong foot.
By 1030hrs, the plan had been readjusted where necessary and orders issued:
Right – Royal Irish Fusiliers. Objectives – Point 225 (708748), Pink House, Maria (711952), The Palace (705954), and Casino (704955).
Left – London Irish Rifles. Objectives – Hole House, Quarry House, Viaduct (707958).
Reserve – Inniskillings.
Zero – 1530hrs.
Attack to have full scale Divisional Artillery Support plus 4 Medium Batteries and, in addition, two platoons of 4.2” mortars were in position.
Although the issue was never really in doubt, and the action concluded with one third of our infantry in hand, it was slow, hard, bitter fighting.
Enemy MG posts and snipers were hidden in caves (the whole northern cliff face was afterwards discovered to be honeycombed with caves) and each one had to be tracked down and eliminated. The Casino and Palace, both strongly built stone houses, were strong points, and every house between the river and the Y Junction (705955) had its quota of snipers.
The Casino and the Palace were the last to fall, but were finally liquidated at dusk after bombardment by the A/Tk guns of the Royal Irish Fusiliers from the right (range 800 yards), and a PIAT of the LIR from the left (range 120 yards).
Not many prisoners were taken in the operation, but a wounded sergeant major of the Herman Goering Division, who was taken in the Casino, described his afternoon as being “unpleasant”.
By 2100hrs, the bridgehead was secure, with the Royal Irish Fusiliers on the right, the London Irish Rifles on the left, and the Inniskillings on the southern bank between the river and the railway station.
The stage was again at the disposal of the Sappers, ready and able for their 24 hours job.
Twenty four hours later, the 11th and 36th Brigades passed over a Sapper miracle and the Irish Brigade rested on the banks, and bathed in the waters of a river, which they felt they’d some claim over.
It is of interest to note that from the afternoon of August 1st until the night of August 5th, the Irish Brigade had advanced 25 miles and fought the three hard fights of Centuripe, Salso and Simeto.
A tribute must be made to Sappers – everything depended on the Sappers, and they were magnificent. Recce parties under fire, bulldozing under fire, bridge building under fire, the work still went on. The badly cratered mountain road between Catenanuova and Centuripe was fixed on the night of 2nd/3rd August. The large crater between Centuripe and the Salso was fixed on the night of 3rd/4th August.
12 hours work completed the Salso crossing and 24 hours work completed the Simeto crossing. A layman would consider it good work in a week and a fortnight respectively.