During the first ten days of January 1943, all three battalions of the Irish Brigade continued patrolling activity near to Goubellat. Overnight patrols provoked regular fierce fire fights with German patrols who had a similar intention in contesting the large areas of open plain to the south and east of Goubellat, with the wide ranging front line being unsecured for either side.
On 11th January, two companies of 2 LIR took part in an operation to recover eight tanks of the 2nd Lothian and Border Horse, which had been “bogged down” south of Goubellat. During the partially successful action, H Coy of 2 LIR moved forward whilst singing “You Are My Sunshine”.
On 13th January, the Irish Brigade took part in its first significant encounter of the North African campaign when the 6th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (6 Innisks) led a 6th Armoured Division assault on three hills to the east of the Goubellat to Bou Arada Road. Although they succeeded in capturing Two Tree Hill, they were forced to retire as they were outnumbered, perhaps by a ratio of two to one, by the defending forces, and their ability to move forward was also hindered by the cloying mud caused by heavy rain over the preceding few days.
There were further plans to capture Two Tree Hill and its two hilly neighbours on 18th January, this time led by the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers (1 RIrF). Due to a requirement for the enhancement of the artillery plan, the operation was postponed for 24 hours. On the morning of 18th January, the brigade’s positions on Grandstand Hill were attacked by a force, which was estimated to include five infantry battalions and over twenty tanks. A hard fought defensive action by both 6 Innisks and 1 RIrF, with the support of 2 LIR’s mortars and carriers and the brigade’s artillery 17th Field Regiment resulted in the attack being finally repulsed by the early evening.
Two days later on the early morning of 20th January, F and G Companies of 2 LIR led an assault on Pt 279 and Pt 286, just to the south of Grandstand Hill. After heavy fighting, they were able to gain a position on both hill tops, but it soon became clear that due to the concrete hard nature of the ground, it was impossible to dig in any adequate defensive positions and, during the daylight hours of 20th January, the two companies were subjected to incessant artillery and mortar bombardment. That night, there was a massive German counter attack, likened to a cavalry charge, and the two other 2 LIR rifle companies, E and H, were brought up as reinforcements but they too suffered heavy casualties from sustained artillery and mortar fire and dive bombing by JU-88s. The LIR’s positions were overrun and Pt 286 was re-occupied by the counterattacking forces. Fortunately, B Company of 1 RIrF, under James Dunnill, had been positioned by 1 RIrF’s Commanding Officer, Pat Scott, to guard the brigade’s southern flank in case of a German breakthrough and they held firm against the continuing offensive. 2 LIR suffered significant levels of casualties with the commanders of all four rifle companies being either killed or wounded, and a total of 250 London Irishmen being killed, wounded or captured on 20th and 21st January.
Later on 21st January and in order to secure the brigade’s positions, 3rd Grenadier Guards from 1 Infantry Brigade (Guards) came under command of the Irish Brigade, and they remained with the brigade for seven days.
Plans for the ongoing organisation of the Irish Brigade, to ensure a full defensive capability across the Bou Arada plain, were discussed over the following days, but a planned move of 1 Parachute Brigade to support the Irish Brigade was cancelled at short notice. At the end of the month, 6th Armoured Division sent out operational orders for its units to “establish patrolling ascendency” in the area north of Bou Arada towards Djebel Rihane.
1st January to 10th January – Patrolling duties continue for all three battalions to the east of Goubellat and there are regular encounters with German counter offensive patrols.
11th January – H and G Company of 2 LIR take part in the attempt to recover eight tanks of 2 Lothian and Border Horse, who are “bogged down” near to Goubellat.
13th January – 6 Innisks take part in an attack on Two Tree Hill, Three Tree Hill and Hen House Hill to the east of the Goubellat to Bou Arada road, but after capturing Two Tree Hill are forced to retire.
14th to 17th January – Defensive positions are taken up by the brigade on Grandstand Hill on the east side of the Goubellat to Bou Arada road.
18th January – A day before a planned further attack on Two Tree Hill by 1 RIrF, the brigade’s positions on Grandstand Hill are heavily attacked, but the assault is repulsed by the decisive defensive actions of 1 RIrF and 6 Innisks.
20th/21st January – 2 LIR attempts to capture Pt 279 and Pt 286, just to the south of Grandstand Hill. They initially capture the two hill tops but suffer heavy casualties in doing so and spend the subsequent daylight hours seeking to dig in to consolidate their gains under heavy mortar and shell fire. They are then counterattacked during the early morning of 21st January by German armoured cars and tanks and their positions are overrun with the overall brigade position only being secured by the timely intervention of 1 RIrF. Over 250 men from 2 LIR are killed, wounded or captured over the two days.
21st January – 3 Grenadier Guards temporarily comes under command of the Irish Brigade and remain with the brigade until 28th January.
22nd to 31st January – For the rest of the month, the brigade undertakes defensive duties and there are significant levels of reorganisation within each battalion due to the high levels of casualties suffered during the earlier part of January.
January 1943 Roll of Honour:
Links to the transcribed January 1943 war diaries: