The start of August 1943 saw the Irish Brigade being brought forward from Catenanuova to support a 78th Division wide assault on the mountaintop town of Centuripe, a key element of the strongly held German defensive positions to the west of Mt Etna and which controlled the only lateral road around the volcanic mountain from Catania.
After two days of abortive attempts by five of 78th Division’s battalions to break through the German strong points around the town, on the afternoon of 2nd August, the brigade was readied for their attack. 2 LIR (‘Irish Rifles’) targeted a set of hilltops on the left flank of Centuripe, 1 RIrF (‘Faughs’) were to attack via the cemetery into the northern part of the town and 6 Innisks (‘Skins’) were to make their assault up sheer 100 feet cliffs to enter “by the front door”. Due to a slight miscommunication, the Skins’ attack, which was led by A and C Companies, went in early, but they successfully scaled and secured Point 708. G and F Companies of the Irish Rifles were able to secure two of their targeted peaks, but not the third one, but despite this, the Faughs then joined the attack, albeit slightly behind the agreed timetable, on a single company front led by D Company, and this was followed on by C Company. By the early morning of 3rd August, the whole town was occupied by 1 RIrF.
The following day, the announcement of the capture of Centuripe was made in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Montgomery was quoted as saying that “he doubted if any other division in his Army could have carried this operation out successfully”.
Salso River crossing
The capture of Centuripe caused a major change to German defensive positions, and the Irish Brigade was ordered to follow up quickly and on 4th August, both the Irish Rifles and Faughs had reached their next barrier, the River Salso. Tremendous amounts of damage had been caused by the retreating forces, and it took over half a day for the Royal Engineers to deal with a huge crater on the winding road down from Centuripe.
Although the Salso had almost dried up, the crossing of the river during the afternoon, led by the Faughs, was difficult as they were met by snipers and machine gun fire. It took two hours to secure the bridgehead where they were soon joined by the Rifles, and once both battalions moved forward towards the Simeto River, the Skins remained to hold the Salso bridgehead.
The Faughs reached and crossed the water filled, steep banked, Simeto River in the early morning of 5th August but were met there by strong German defensive positions, and the advancing forces were heavily shelled and mortared. A brigade wide assault, supported by the whole of 78 Division’s artillery capability, started in the afternoon and the Faughs and the Rifles eventually secured their objectives by 9pm that evening.
Attack on Maletto and advance to Randazzo
Following four days of intensive battle action, the Irish Brigade was able to rest for six days whilst the other two brigades of 78 Division advanced along the western edge of Mt Etna capturing the towns of Bronte and Aderno.
On 11 August, the brigade moved forward again with the objective of capturing Maletto, with the overall divisional objectives including Mt Macherone, Mt Capella and Mt Sperina. Under command at this point was 8 A & SH from 36 Brigade. The Faughs quickly captured Capella and Mt Maletto, but due to an inability to bring up their full strength, the Irish Rifles were only able to be partially successful in gaining a strong position on Sperina, and they remained under fire. After a Divisional commander review, the Faughs and Skins, who now joined up with them, returned to the attack with the Irish Rifles continuing to support. After an eighteen hour fighting advance, the Faughs were able to fully break through and continue six miles further forward, where they were able to join up with elements of the US 1st Infantry Division, who were advancing from the west.
Following this success, the Irish Brigade were brought into reserve as the Allied Armies were able to advance onto Messina, which eventually fell on 17th August 1943 – the campaign having lasted a total of 38 days. From 20th August onwards, men of the brigade were able to move to a rest camp on the north coast of Sicily and, by the end of the month, all men were able to rest and recuperate near to Patti.
Read Captain Percy Hamilton’s account of 6 Innisks’ attack on Centuripe and their advance onto Randazzo.
2nd August: Brigade attack on Centuripe.
3rd August: Centuripe captured.
4th August: 1 RIrF/2 LIR cross Salso river.
5th August: 1 RIrF/2 LIR cross Simeto river.
12th August: Brigade wide attack on area near to Maletto.
13th August: 1 RIrF meet with US 1st Infantry Division near to Randazzo.
14th August: Brigade taken into reserve.
August 1943 Roll of Honour:
August 1943 War Diaries: