Major Desmond Woods – Adriatic Coast, Reaching the Moro river

Well, that was the Sangro – the German Winter Line – captured. The next line in front of us was the river Moro. Now, it was some distance away and it was a matter of moving forward from the Sangro to the Moro. I was sent off one evening with H Company to do the first part of the journey by night. I was given an area where I was to get my company to and then Harry Rogers said he would move up the rest of the Battalion in tanks the following morning.

I set off with the company and we moved through the night. It was quite a tricky approach march – again, we didn’t quite know where the Germans were but they were around all right; certain farmhouses were occupied. I tried the same tactics, avoiding the farmhouse where possible and we got into our position and then the next morning at daylight the battalion moved up with the armour.

(NA 9397): Rfn. W.E. Tudor, ‘S” Coy., A/Tk PI.2 Btn. London Irish of Birkenhead, inspects a German anti-tank weapon abandoned at Rocca S. Giovannii. It was a 37 mm gun which fired a heavy bomb of the type seen on the ground besides the gun. Copyright: © IWM.

When the battalion got established, Harry Rogers said to me, “I want you to now go on and try to get up to a position overlooking the bridge over the River Moro.” Well, we set off again and we got up to a position overlooking the Moro. I again found a suitable It-ie farm house and there were a certain number of tanks swanning around the place and down below, once again, there was a bridge over the river Moro intact and an order came over the wireless set, the 18 set, from the battalion headquarters that I was to go down and attack the bridge. Well now, I didn’t like the idea of this at all and I got back on the set and I said that I would send a patrol down first of all to have a look at what was going on. I was quite certain that the bridge was mined and I was quite certain that it was well defended by the Germans and I wasn’t going to sacrifice my company by taking them down there out of the blue.

I picked a very good sergeant called Carberry and I sent him down with a small patrol and I told him I wanted him to get as near the bridge as he could, have a good look and see what was happening and come back and let me know. He was away well over an hour I should say – well, more than that – and when he eventually came back, he reported to me that the Germans were well dug in all around the bridge and he was quite certain it was mined.

I got through back to battalion headquarters and I explained to Harry Rogers that this bridge was highly defended and probably mined and if I was to take my company down there like that I would achieve nothing and lose most of the company. I said however that I would have a crack at it provided he laid on an artillery barrage of some sort and also get the tanks that were swanning around organised so that they would give me some covering fire as well. I told him all this and the next thing I knew was he landed up himself. He’d been about five miles back and he took a look from my observation post in the farmhouse and he said, “Well Desmond, I think this is going to be a battalion attack.”

So, he went away and, not long after that, Brigadier Nelson Russell commanding the Irish Brigade, arrived up and he took a look and he said that he reckoned that it would probably be a job for the Brigade. Well, I must say that I was very glad that I had done what I did. This got round the company eventually and I think they realised that I wasn’t going to let them be used as cannon fodder and from that time onwards the morale of the men began to perk up and I felt that it was going to be a pleasure to command the company from then on. I had a lot of men to replace, a lot of them had had a lot beforehand and they needed a rest and it was going to be a matter of gradually building up the company over a process of time.

Before the brigade attack was to go in, it was decided that the Irish Brigade was going to be taken out of the line. We’d been going solidly from the Trigno, across the Sangro and up to the Moro and it was time they were taken out of the line and given a bit of a rest. The Canadians came over and relieved us and I understand that they had a crack at the bridge over the Moro and had a pretty bloody nose.”