Major Mervyn Davies MC and Lieutenant Nicholas Mosley MC
After several abortive attempts to make a breakthrough at Monte Spaduro, on 23rd October 1944, the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles (2 LIR), were ordered to assault and occupy the strongpoint of Casa Spinello, which was a key position on the approach to the Spaduro ridge.
During the afternoon, a patrol from E Company, led by Lieutenant Desmond Fay MC, accompanied by Sergeant William Farthing and Riflemen McWilliam and Fitzmaurice, was sent out on a mission to find out the layout of the German defensive positions in the area. This they were able to do successfully as they brought back a prisoner, who divulged details that allowed a plan to be formed for the occupation of Spinello and the assault would be undertaken later in the day.
Desmond Fay would later describe the approach that he took that day with typical infantryman understatement:
“It really was a matter of skill rather than bravery. We covered ourselves in mud and we advanced along dead ground, where we could not be seen by the Germans.”
An except of Lieutenant Fay’s citation for the Military Cross (MC) highlights the true nature of the patrol’s exploits:
“…(Lt Fay) left his two Riflemen under cover and advanced with the Sergeant over open grassland to the farm at the front edge of which he found a slit trench which contained three Germans one of whom he shot, the second escaped whilst the third he took prisoner and brought back to Battalion HQ. The garrison, although over 30 men strong and backed up by a Company on a nearby feature, were completely taken by surprise. This prisoner gave much information which helped greatly in the capture of the farm which took place two or three hours later….”
You can read here further details of Desmond’s Fay mission for which he was awarded a bar to a previously awarded Military Cross.
As a result of this remarkable success, a platoon from E Company, led by Lieutenant Nicholas Mosley, was sent out in the early evening and, under heavy fire, entered Casa Spinello and were then able to beat off a series of counter attacks over the next few hours. Desmond Fay brought up his platoon in support and, despite being wounded, E Company commander, Major Mervyn Davies, was able to arrange much needed supplies and ammunition to be sent forward.
In his memoir, ‘Time at War’, Nicholas Mosley would describe the hours that his platoon spent at Casa Spinello:
“…During the night, three or four counter attacks did come in from the further hills but, by this time, we were experiencing a strange exhilaration. We felt invulnerable, heroic; when we heard Germans approaching, we opened fire with all our weapons from every opening in all directions. I remember one man, who had lost his spectacles and could find no room at a window, firing his rifles repeatedly straight up in the air.
We yelled and whooped our war cry – ‘Woo-hoo Mahommet!; – and blazed away until the attacks seemed to fade into the thin night air. It was all quite like, yes, an apotheosis of a mad apocalyptic children’s game. Only once, I think, did a German get right up to the wall of the house; he shot one of our men point blank through a window. Grenades usually bounced off the walls and exploded outside. After a time, things quietened down. Our wireless was not working so, at least we were out of touch with headquarters so they could not order us to do anything different….”
As a result of the occupation of Casa Spinello, other units of 78th Division, including 2 Innisks, were able to overwhelm Monte Spaduro that same night and this would establish a base for possible forward progress towards the northern Italian plains but the onset of winter rains intervened and further operations in the sector soon had to be suspended.
Six London Irishmen, including Major Ronnie Boyd MC and Lieutenant John Bruckmann, were killed at Casa Spinello and, a few days later, Sergeant Farthing would succumb to wounds suffered during the assault.
For their outstanding actions at Casa Spinello, Nicholas Mosley and Mervyn Davies were both awarded the Military Cross, and Corporals Tomkinson and Flavell received the Military Medal.
Nick Mosley’s MC citation would state that:
“….After bitter fighting amongst the buildings, they were cleared of the enemy except for two who maintained resistance from beneath the floor of a building. Lt Mosley personally disposed of these two with his tommy-gun and a grenade. His company commander becoming a casualty, Lt Mosley took over temporary command of the Company and rapidly prepared for counter attack under very heavy shelling and mortaring….”