Irish Brigade

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

May 1944

At the start of May 1944, the Irish Brigade began intensive training exercises near to their rest area at Formicola including practising river crossings over the River Volturno and taking part in joint infantry/tank attack manoeuvres with 16/5 Lancers from 6th Armoured Division.

The brigade moved forward to a concentration area at Presenzano on the afternoon of 11th May just before the Allied Armies started their attack on the Gustav Line later the same day. On the morning of 14th May, they moved forward to an area behind Monte Trocchio before crossing the Gari river in the early afternoon using the newly completed Congo bridge. The Divisional Commander, General Keightley, had set four lines of progress for 78th Division, which was to attack on a two brigade front, and called them ‘Grafton’, ‘Pytchley’, ‘Fernie’ and ‘Bedale’ (named after four English fox hunts). The ultimate divisional objective was to make a complete break through of the Gustav Line and then swing right to cross Highway Six, which was the German supply route for their forces on the Cassino massif.

In the early morning of 15th May and, at very short notice, the Skins were ordered to attack towards the Cassino to Pignatoro road (‘Grafton’ Line) and were able to reach their objective by midday. The Rifles were then called up to attack Colle Monache (‘Pytchley’ Line) immediately but whilst assembling for an ‘O’ Group, Lieut Colonel Goff was killed in a nebelwerfer strike, along with John Loveday, the CO of 16/5 Lancers. Major Horsfall took over command of the battalion, and due to the need to allow time for 2 Lancashire Fusiliers (of 11 Brigade) to move up on their right flank, the attack was postponed until the following morning.

The Rifles began their attack on the heavily defended buildings near Casa Sinagoga at 9am on 16th May and, despite suffering significant levels of casualties, successfully reached Colle Monache just after midday. They spent the rest of the day staving off attacks from the Piopetto river on their left flank, before tank support was able to dampen down these German counter measures. In the evening, the Faughs moved up to prepare to take their part in the battle.

The Faughs’ attack started at 0730 on 17th May and by early afternoon, they had reached Massa Cerro (‘Fernie’ Line) and were moving towards high points, which overlooked Highway Six (‘Bedale’ Line). Whilst these attacks had been going in, there had been some doubt if units of 6 Armoured Divison had entered the strongly fortified village of Piumarola and it was hastily decided that the Skins should lead an attack on the village, which they were able to clear within an hour. During this attack, the Skins’ Commanding Officer, Lieut Colonel Bala Bredin, was severely wounded but stayed to observe their successful advance.

By the evening of 17th May, all the Gustav Line defensive positions in the area had been completely overrun. During the night, any remaining German paratroopers were ordered to retreat from the mountain areas and on the morning of 18th May, the Polish Corps were able to enter the now undefended abbey of Monte Cassino.

Over the next week, the Irish Brigade gained some deserved rest whilst 36 Brigade took up the advance towards Aquino. On 23rd May, the Canadians attacked the next heavily fortified defensive positions, which was the Hitler (‘Senger’) Line, and after some bitter fighting were able to advance to cross the Liri river at Ceprano.

On 26th May, the brigade was again called forward and had to take a cross country route to avoid German strongpoints near Arce before they eventually crossed the Liri on 28th May. On the next day, the Faughs moved north of Ceprano and, on the 30th, entered Strangolagalli. Meanwhile the Irish Rifles had undertaken a night attack on Hill 255, which guarded the road onto Ripi, before attacking the village of San Giovanni a couple of miles further forward, and this was secured after a whole day of heavy fighting. The road to Ripi was now clear.

This period had now become one of transition with all defensive forces in the area hurriedly retreating towards new positions north of Rome but the spearhead forces of the Irish Brigade continued to be confronted with hard fought encounters and the German rearguard often fighting to the last man. Whilst Allied troops were posied to enter the Etermal City, the Irish Brigade’s only intent at the end of May 1944 was to ensure the total defeat of all German forces in the Italian theatre.

Read Pat Scott’s descriptions of the Irish Brigade’s assault on the Gustav Line and the advance towards Ripi.

Read an excerpt of John Horsfall’s account of 2 LIR’s assault on Sinagoga.

Read Mervyn Davies’ account of 2 LIR’s attack on Casa Sinagoga on 16th May 1944 and the attack on Hill 255 on 29th May 1944.

Read Major Lawrie Franklyn-Vaile’s letters home to his wife, Olive, during the first part of May 1944.

Read CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan’s recollections of the London Irish Rifles’ movements in the Liri Valley during May 1944.

Read a battlefield guide following the Irish Brigade’s actions from 15th to 17th May 1944.


Key Dates:

11th/12th May: The 8th Army assault against the Gustav Line commences.

14th May: The Irish Brigade cross the Gari river via Congo Bridge.

15th May, am: 6 Innisks attack towards the Cassino to Pignatoro road (‘Grafton’) and reach their objectives by 12 noon.

15th May, pm: 2 LIR Commanding Officer, Lieut Colonel Goff killed during an ‘O’ Group.

16th May, am: 2 LIR attack Colle Monache (‘Pytchley’) and reach their objectives by midday.

17th May, am: 1 RIrF advance to Massa Cerro (‘Fernie’) and start to threaten Route Six (‘Bedale’).

17th May, pm: 6 Innisks, supported by 2 LIR, capture the fortified village of Piumarola.

18th May: Abbey of Monte Cassino entered by Poilsh forces.

28th May: Brigade starts to cross the Liri river near Ceprano.

29th/30th May: 2 LIR attack Hill 255.

30th May: 1 RIrF enter Strangolagalli

30th May: 2 LIR attack on San Giovanni.


May 1944 Roll of Honour:

8th May 1944 – Fusilier James Montague, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Fusilier G Bainbridge, Unit: Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Fusilier Harry Southworth, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Fusilier Thomas Ellison, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Corporal Brian Allen, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Fusilier James Johnston, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Lieutenant Maurice Milner, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Fusilier John Cormican, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Fusilier Arthur Moore, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Fusilier Thomas Elliott, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Lance Corporal George Rollins, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Corporal David Milligan, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

15th May 1944 – Sergeant Harold Henshaw, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Rifleman Patrick Flynn, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Company Sergeant Major Frank Wakefield, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Sergeant William Roberts, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Corporal Charles Williams, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Rifleman  Bernard Lee, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Rifleman Herbert Hutt, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Rifleman Francis Trotter, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Corporal Robert Jackson, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Lieutenant Michael Clark MC, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Corporal Christopher Dean, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Lance Corporal  Thomas Spain, London Irish Rifles.

15th May 1944 – Lieut Colonel Ion Goff, London Irish Rifles, attached from Kings (Liverpool) Regiment.

15th May 1944 – Lance Corporal Raymond Harrison, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Fusilier William Farmelo, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

16th May 1944 – Fusilier Alan Connell, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

16th May 1944 – Fusilier Charles Smith, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

16th May 1944 – Rifleman Cyril Meldrum, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Corporal Edward O’Reilly MM, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Rifleman Charles Wilson, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Rifleman Michael Duncan, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Corporal Joseph Willison, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Sergeant Edward Mayo MM, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Lance Sergeant William Donaldson, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Rifleman John Fitzgerald, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Corporal James Barnes, London Irish Rifles.

16th May 1944 – Rifleman Edmund Bell, London Irish Rifles.

17th May 1944 – Lance Corporal John Williamson, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

17th May 1944 – Fusilier Victor Moss, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

17th May 1944 – Corporal John Williams, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

17th May 1944 – Fusilier Leslie Hill, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

17th May 1944 – Fusilier Basil Curtis-Setchell, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, attached from South African Armoured Corps.

17th May 1944 – Rifleman James Ryalls, London Irish Rifles.

17th May 1944 – Lance Corporal Joseph Brodie, London Irish Rifles.

17th May 1944 – Fusilier William Stoddart, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

17th May 1944 – Major Lawrence Franklyn-Vaile, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

17th May 1944 – Fusilier Dennis Dugdale, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

17th May 1944 – Fusilier Bernard Mannion, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

22nd May 1944 – Rifleman Albert Bowen, London Irish Rifles.

22nd May 1944 – Sergeant Gerard Keegan, London Irish Rifles.

22nd May 1944 – Corporal William Gadd, London Irish Rifles.

22nd May 1944 – Rifleman Anthony Duckworth, London Irish Rifles.

23rd May 1944 – Rifleman AHC Smith, London Irish Rifles.

25th May 1944 – Rifleman Albert Snelgrove, London Irish Rifles.

25th May 1944 – Rifleman Harold Clarke, London Irish Rifles.

25th May 1944 – Rifleman Samuel Fry, London Irish Rifles.

25th May 1944 – Corporal Sydney Francis, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier John Ravenscroft, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier Fred Lowe, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier Haydn Edwards, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier William Johnson, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier Christopher Hamilton, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier David Cameron, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier Michael O’Donnell, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier JW Ferchal, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Fusilier Charles Davis, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

27th May 1944 – Lance Corporal William Marchant, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

29th May 1944 – Fusilier Frank Storer, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

29th May 1944 – Fusilier Ernest Wright, Royal Irish Fusiliers.

30th May 1944 – Sergeant Francis Byrne, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

30th May 1944 – Fusilier George Bignell, Royal Irish Fusiliers.


Links to the transcribed May 1944 war diaries.

38 (Irish) Brigade.

6 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.

2 London Irish Rifles.


Links to the original May 1944 war diaries.

38 (Irish) Brigade.

6 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.

2 London Irish Rifles.



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