Into Battle – 15 May 1944

Lt Colonel Bala Bredin at Cassino

So, we started out at about 130 or 2am, we started and we pushed one company forward and we told it to go approximately 400/500 yards forward and, if it found nothing, to stop and prepare for an attack anywhere, send back a signal and we would then move up behind it and it could on again and, in due course, we would relieve it and put through another company instead. And we did this – in the dark – and then the next thing that happened was, just as the tanks were going to gradually move forward and cross the bridge so as to be within reach behind us when daylight came, the bridge was broken by the first tank that went across and fell into the brook – the driver may have mis-steered. That was that for the moment and the sappers had to feverishly try and build a new bridge quickly alongside it.  Although I didn’t see it, that actually happened. Well, we proceeded and, in due course, the leading company came up against the enemy and a fire-fight broke out.

And our people pushed a little bit further and, by this time, dawn was beginning to break and there was also really quite a thick mist. And a time came when we could actually hear the enemy tanks ahead of us, revving their engines up, but they realised as well as we did, that it was no good trying to get into a tank battle in the middle of a heavy mist because they reckoned they would be dead, cold meat for our rocket launchers. And so, a bit of a stalemate went on.

By that time, we had probably gone about nearly a mile on from where we started and we knew that our left flank was very much in the air. There was supposed to be British troops somewhere on our right flank but we didn’t know where and, as dawn began to break, I thought to myself I wondered how long this mist was going to last because here we are – a gang of infantry, completely isolated from anybody, with no tanks, and we know that the enemy has tanks just in front of us and so we had some anxious moments.

214 Field Coy., R. E. Staffordshire Territorial Coy., of 78 Div. working on a Bailey bridge and a track for tanks. This bridge has been built in two days under continuous fire, and is about 1000 yds. from the River Gari bridge.

However, the mist – in fact it was pretty heavy fog – persisted and eventually I suddenly got news to say that the bridge is now open and that the tanks are ready to move and can you send somebody to guide them up and so my indefatigable batman with another couple of chaps went back and literally walked in front of the leading tank and guided them up right through our headquarters to just behind the company which was in front and, by the mercy of the almighty, just at that moment, the mist lifted and the tanks were there and then a nice little tank battle went on over our heads, which luckily our squadron of 16/5 Lancers won and so then the leading company and the tanks moved ahead with the one supporting the other according to what was firing.

If it was an anti-tank gun firing at the tanks, then the infantry moved and mopped up the anti-tank gun. If there didn’t seem to be any anti-tank guns around, the infantry supported the tanks going forward and on we went until we got to the last ridge before the objective that we were supposed to get. And the objective was called Grafton – that was a sort of code-name for the ridge that we were supposed to capture. When we got to the ridge this side of the objective, we could see that it was pretty heavily held and a lot of shell fire was coming from it. And we decided the only thing to do was to rush the objective with two companys and the tanks.

At the same time, I asked (and probably slightly remembering my Dunkirk experience) if I could have the entire Divisional Artillery and any Corps Artillery to fire for three minutes onto this ridge in front. Well, that would have meant probably anything up to 200 guns firing and, from our viewpoint, the entire ridge seemed to erupt into smoke, mud, dust and everything else and while we did that, the tanks with the two companys actually running behind them, a platoon or section running behind each tank as shelter from fire and the rest of us sort of wandered along behind and it was one of those curious things about battle that there is so much noise going on that you didn’t realise that it was quite dangerous. You saw chaps fall down as they had been hit and you wondered what was happening, whether they had tripped or something and then you suddenly realise that bullets were whistling around.

However, we got over the ridge and the enemy had been really shaken by this artillery performance and some of them were coming out of their dug outs (they  had proper dugouts there), really shaking with fear and I don’t blame them much.

Anyway, the tanks unfortunately went a little bit too far. They got up on top of the ridge and then, of course, they were seen by enemy half-tracks and mobile guns. On the next ridge, three of them were knocked out including the Squadron Commander’s tank and he was killed. He and I were at Sandhurst together (poor chap). However, the infantry were able to occupy that ridge and we were able to rescue such of the chaps from the tanks, those who were still alive, and we set feverishly “consolidating the position”.

We were very worried about our left flank and that was completely open and so we put a lot of our fire power on that side. And, I can only remember the ‘O’ (Orders) Group, which I gave for the consolidation and told who to go where and which company is responsible for this/that and we had this meeting in the open. Meanwhile, everyone was feverishly digging slit-trenches in the positions that we were going to occupy and, at that stage, one of these German multi-barrelled rockets started to fire and these things make a ghostly, whistling noise and started to erupt around us. It was one of those occasions when it was no good to start scattering – we would have taken quite a time to gather together again.

These things didn’t seem to be coming that close so I thought it best to go on with the orders as quickly as I could and when I came to the thing at the end of the orders when you’re supposed to say “Any Questions?” There wasn’t a single question. And when I said “Ok, dismissed”, you couldn’t have seen people disappear so quickly as they had gone into a slit-trench or back to their companys. But they had done terribly well and everyone was pretty tired and we occupied that position until the next battalion, which was the 2nd Bn. London Irish Rifles went through us to take the next phase in the battle.

Our Brigade commander reckoned that the right way to launch this attack was to use the brigade as though it was a lance with all the weight in the shaft and the point, the narrow thing like the lance head, and that meant using one battalion and when that battalion ran out of steam or captured its objectives to simply put a new handle on the lance and simply put another battalion into the attack and that next battalion was 2 LIR.