Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


Il Calvario

 Report by OC, ‘E’ Company on German Raid at Calvario on 19th January 1944.


1. A raiding party of about 50 Germans visited ‘E’ Company’s area this morning. The raid seems to have been carefully planned and was based on clear information in respect of the company and the area of ‘F’ Company on our right.

2. There had been indication of the raid in the careful shelling, which the enemy had carried out on the previous evening and immediately before his attack. He got the range on to the left forward platoon (030472) and onto the locality of 033465 very accurately. His previously shelling had all been north of the two companies and in the area 036470. From this, we concluded that he had spotted our positions.The shells that were put down last evening on the two positions mentioned appeared to be ranging shells because as soon as he had got down to the correct range, he fired no more. In consequence, a special instruction was issued to platoons:

a) To try and spot the guns

and

b) To be alert for a raid for which he might be ranging as a preliminary.

It was suggested that a raid might come at dawn the following day. There was no further indications of the event. The writer spent about half an hour with glasses in the OP at 030462 and, with a complete view from north-west to south-east, saw no sign of movement in the enemy direction.

3. The raid began at 0830hrs when on the hilltops occupied by 9 Platoon (031462) firing broke out. It was plainly MG 34 fire and I telephoned to the locality immediately and was informed by the platoon that about 20 Germans were in their position. The strength of 9 Platoon was 13 men and commanded by a Lance Sergeant. In view of the information, I sent a runner to summon my platoon reserve (No 8 under Lieutenant Bird) from 033464. I awaited them at Company HQ  and at the same time sent a runner to 7 Platoon (Lieutenant Mosley) with orders that the platoon would move across from its locality north and below 9 Platoon to take the party in 9 Platoon area from that flank while I and 8 Platoon moved them from the east.

4. 8 Platoon came to me at Company HQ within 10 minutes and we moved up to the 9 Platoon locality. German MGs were firing on us from the artillery OP area (light point on south edge of platoon locality) and on going north to get a firing position against this gun, Corporal Blake was hit in the leg by a Schmeisser fired at short range. The relieving platoon accordingly had two posts to clear: one south of the feature and one north. At this stage, some soldiers of 7 Platoon were seen to move across the front followed by Germans. Before we saw that they were prisoners, the men of 8 Platoon shouted at the men of 7. This gave the Germans a warning and they took cover although a Bren burst got one of them.

I detailed Lieutenant Bird with one section to stalk the MG in the OP area and this he did.

I took one Bren and five men to stalk the Schmeisser and men escorting the prisoners. We shot three of these men and, at this stage three white lights went up, which apparently was their order to withdraw. At this stage, Lieutenant Mosley got away and joined me. I returned to Company HQ to report to Battalion HQ and find out why they had not had defensive fire from the guns and 4.2” mortars.

I had sent a runner from the hilltops asking for DF6 and heavy mortar defensive fire. My CSM had contacted the 3” mortars and they fired a defensive fire I had given them previously. It may have down damage as it was across the German line of withdrawal.

They also fired to the left of the hilltops from whence fire came, which was pinning ‘F’ Company down.

I believe this shelling removed the MMG, which Lieutenant Bird drove away. He followed this party down into the valley of the Alfedena–Pizzone road losing one man killed by MG fire.

5. 7 Platoon (Lieutenant Mosley) had been ordered to attack towards the hilltops. Before the order reached them, they were all captured.  The platoon commander was holding an ‘O’ Group when a shell (probably a 105mm) struck the tent wounding the platoon sergeant and two section commanders. Mosley rushed out and found 25-30 Germans in his locality and they were collecting arms from his men.

With his men, he was led up to the hilltop eventually coming into view of the relieving platoon (No 8). Lieutenant Mosley and four of his men broke loose. They reported that, whilst sheltering in their slit trenches during the preliminary bombardment, the Germans had rushed them. They used rifles grenades and stick grenades plentifully.

6. Vickers fire opened up and I believe did some execution as the enemy moved back across the more exposed areas. His general direction of withdrawal seemed to be towards Barrea rather than Pizzone. Certainly not Scontrone.

7. Artillery fire eventually came down on the river. 4.2” mortars too fired their defensive tasks but too many shells did not explode.

8. ‘F’ Company on our right was not attacked but was well held by carefully sited MGs both on Calvario and behind them from their old company locality.

9. A short artillery concentration preceded the whole attack, but this was not so extraordinary as to be regarded other than his normal activity in the past few days.

10.   Casualties:                      Killed                     Wounded            Prisoners

‘E’ Company                                 2                                3                    19

‘F’ Company                                 3                                9                      –

Artillery                                         1                                 –

4.2” Mortars                                 –                                 2                      –

German – 6 killed, 1 wounded, 1 prisoner.

Probably more wounded but made away.

11. Armament.

Germans used machine guns (MG 34), a high proportion of Schmeissers, stick grenades, rifle grenades. Then bayonets were fixed and they came in on the platoons with fixed bayonets.

12. Dress.

German troops wore soft hats and snow suits.

They were extremely fit and were far better physically than most German troops. They were confident and their morale high. At the same time, their withdrawal was clumsy and poorly executed.

13. It seems that to carry out this raid, the Germans positioned three or four MGs around this company localities and under their cover and under cover of artillery, moved simultaneously two groups of about twenty on the two forward platoons, taking them by surprise and outnumbered them slightly. To get into the perimeter from which he assaulted, he must have moved into the area south of Calvario by night and lain up until 0830hrs, although it is disappointing to come to this conclusion because three patrols (each of one section) swept these areas during the night for the purpose for finding any such troops lying up. The only odd incident during the night was that a dog was heard barking.

The wounded prisoner said he belonged to the 76 Regiment of a Mountain Division.

Signed DHM Davies,

OC ‘E’ Company,

19/01/44.  



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