“Gibbs had instructed Sergeant North to take No 12 Platoon around the hill, past Stuka Farm, to cut off the enemy if they got up to the farm. He was planning to lead the other two platoons in a counter attack. Part of No 11 Platoon was already engaged and the counter attack plan, although gallant enough in its conception, was foolhardy and unsound. It meant all our dug in positions would be abandoned and a melee would be created with the enemy having the advantage of lying down and potting the Irish as they charged forward.
View over the Goubellat Plain from Stuka Ridge.
I told Gibbs that I would take over North’s platoon and so North and I raced back to the position on the right and as Gibbs pushed his half awake men into the nullah.
We deployed No 12 Platoon and began climbing the hill and to encircle the farm and converge on the other side with Gibbs’ people in the nullah. We had hardly got up to the crest of the ridge when heavy machine gun fire swept across our attack line, coming from the knoll between F and G Companies, where a section of our Carrier Platoon had been located.
Apparently, they have been overcome as the MG fire was definitely German. We went to ground with the red tracer of the Bosche MGs cutting the air over our heads. I called to the 2” mortar crew to lay a smoke screen on our left front so that we could rush across the plateau and into the safety of Stuka Farm. From there, I hoped to mount an attack against the knoll. The No 2 on the mortar had no bombs! I then detailed Cpl Johnson to work around among some haystacks, availing himself of what cover he could; and from there open up on the knoll to give us some covering fire for the dash to the farm.
As Johnson began his movement, the Bosche started throwing mortar bombs among our own group and we suffered four men killed and two wounded. The two men I was lying between were both hit and huge chunks of shrapnel whizzed through the air just above me. The enemy MG fire was continuous. Johnson’s people opened up and gave the order to rush the farm which, by this time, I considered to be occupied by the enemy.
Our position just below the crest was untenable now. It was either necessary to retreat down into the night positions where God only knew what situation existed or put on a bold front and assault with the bayonet. I shouted to the survivors to get up and go forward but they hung back. Realising that they were looking to me for leadership, I jumped to my feet, yelling to them to fix bayonets and follow me. Only about twelve answered my wild call. I shouted to them to keep extended and we rushed for the several openings in what we were sure was an enemy held Stuka Farm. As we charged across the flat ground, Johnson’s section, also broke cover and swept in on our left, entering the farm just before we did.
Stuka Farm was not occupied by the enemy, but by three or four members of Company HQ, who normally spent the night there. They were greatly relieved when they saw it was us who were storming the farm and not Germans as they had thought! I detailed my little force of about twenty men to the doors, windows and gaps in the walls; and decided to hold onto the farm until I could ascertain if the enemy were still on the knoll and how I could best attack them. As soon as the Bosche realised we were in possession of the farm, they trained their MGs on the windows and lobbed a few mortar bombs into the courtyard. Everybody was pretty windy.
Sgt North and I spent more of our time going from post to post joking with the men and keeping them on the alert. To attack the knoll was out of the question, so I decided that the only sound plan was to make a fortress out of our farm and withstand any further enemy attacks. Since the enemy was on higher ground and since, so far as we knew, the other two platoons were liquidated, it would have been suicide to attempt to dislodge them. I decided that counterattack was the problem of the battalion commander, who would call on Brigade for the counterattack force, always held in reserve and centrally located.
Despite the enemy fire, three stretcher bearers, who had been in the farm all along, went out to the crest of the ridge and managed to bring in one lad, who was badly wounded in the shoulder by a mortar fragment. They bandaged him up and I located a bottle of whisky in my quarters and gave him a drink to quieten his nerves. I then replaced the bottle in my kit and went to the wireless truck where Lance Corporal Stratton was attempting to get through to Bttn HQ.
Just before noon, after continuous duelling LMGs and rifles, the Bosche worked around in some low ground and assaulted the farm. The main attack was beaten off, but several of them entered one wing of the courtyard and carried off the three SBs as prisoners, tossing stick grenades into our part of the courtyard. During this assault, the Jerries shouted to one another; but since most of my defences were riflemen in slit trenches within the yard and not right at the gates, we could not see them. Had any of them attempted to rush through the gates, we would have easily shot them down.
Only in one place did I have men positioned right at an open window. This was a Bren post, which shot it out with the knoll. I had just crawled into the room and snuggled up to the wall beside the gun when several rounds came through the window, one of them hitting Rfn FE Janes, the Bren gunner, square in the front of his helmet. He toppled back, his Bren gun clattering to the floor. Fortunately, the bullet failed to pierce his helmet. He got to his feet, removed his helmet, upon which there was a great dent, put it on again back to front, picked up his gun, shoved the muzzle out the window and fired back at his opponent. All this, despite the fact that enemy bullets were continually smashing the window sash and whizzing past his head!
During the morning, the CSM and Lance Corporal Stratton made their way from man to man distributing chocolate bars, hardtack and oranges, which they had found in the cookhouse. This cheered the hungry troops considerably as the morning’s business had cut out all hopes of a proper breakfast. At 1130 am, having got in touch with Bttn HQ by wireless and informing them that we were holding on and giving our scanty information onto the remainder of the company. I detailed a small patrol under Sergeant Udall to leave the farm and work their way around through a gully to the knoll to see what was happening, as the enemy fire had completely stopped.”