Concentration completed as in I0 Infantry Brigade OO No 4. Day spent in final briefing. Brigade Commander held COs’ conference 1200 hrs HQ 10 Infantry Brigade to tie up last minute details and to discuss probable op by 10 Infantry Brigade against Cassino. This op likely to take place 24 hours after completion of tasks allotted to 10 Infantry Brigade in Operation Honker.
Today the Army Commander authorised all commanders to tell junior officers and all ranks that Zero for the operation is 2300 hrs, 11 May.
1830 Brigade Commander read to all ranks Brigade HQ on parade the messages from General Alexander and Commander 8 Army concerning the impending attack.
2300 The artillery programme started according to plan and, by 2340 hrs, it was evident that enemy reaction was taking place on 10 Infantry Brigade front.
2345 10 Infantry Brigade assault began according to plan with 6 Surreys as the assault bttn. A and D Coys were the leading units and immediately met by resistance from pt 36 originally appreciated as an enemy strong point. D Coy got into the middle of a minefield and suffered casualties and A Coy was held up at the south west end of pt 36 by mines and wire. C Coy then came to the assistance of A Coy and between them and after very bitter fighting a foothold on this very difficult feature was gained at 0059 hrs. Fluid fighting continued then marked by some very gallant actions by both coys of 6 Surreys until, finally at about 0300 hrs, the position was clear of the enemy. This position was found to be a hill almost completely tunnelled underneath and shored up inside to give its great strength. MG and rifle embrasures were sited to cover the river banks at almost every point and all positions were linked up by tunnels inside the feature.
2 Beds and Herts followed 6 Surreys over and the increasing shortage of bombs became apparent. Losses were incurred both by enemy small arms fire and mortaring and by the speed of the current. 2 Beds and Herts advanced through one small minefield to the line between road junction 862183 and road junction 861178.
D Coy of 2 DCLI carried out an assault crossing at 870169 and were pinned down almost immediately by MG fire from wood 867180.
These positions then remained in our hands in spite of the tenacity of the enemy and, by first light, all were consolidated. Isolated and determined MGs and snipers continued to harass our ferry sites and river banks from close range and many casualties were caused since in the long grass none could be easily detected. No vehicles were able to cross the river at all and by first light only one cl 2 raft was in operation and that under constant heavy mortar fire and shell fire.
Counter attacks took place on pt 36 and pt 33 861179 during the day but all were repulsed and bttns remained firm on objectives with 2 DCLI (less one coy) in Brigade Reserve in area 873182. Work on crossing places still greatly hampered by MGs in the wood 867180 and one coy DCLI ordered to cross river and, in conjunction with D Coy 2 DCLI, to mop up the area. This was not possible due to the flatness of the terrain and the strength of the post.
10 Infantry Brigade had no offensive role night 12/13 May and activity was restricted to local patrolling by 2 DCLI.
The bridge Amazon was completed successfully by 0500 hrs and at 0530 hrs one squadron 17 Lancers crossed to aid the two infantry battalions in mopping up the sniper and MG menace in the river bank area. Tanks today became the battle winning factor and turned the situation well in our favour. Mopping up was effected quickly and when 12 Infantry Brigade attack supported by 2 Lothians went in first south along Queen Street and then west to Blue objective, the situation was very favourable and the objective was gained with little trouble.
1400 2 DCLI (less two coys) supported by one squadron 17/21 Lancers attacked pt 63 under a barrage, captured their objective and 150 PoWs including many of 1 Para MG bttn. By nightfall, a third coy DCLI were brought up and the bttn was set in a firm position on this feature. Shelling of forward positions and of river approaches continued heavy and casualties were suffered.
Enemy patrols were active during the night north of positions 2 DCLI and one of these were unsuccessfully attacked killing one enemy and taking two PoWs. Twelve further PoWs came into DCLI at first light.
During the morning, two strong counter attacks supported by a few tanks on pt 63 were beaten off by 2 DCLI. The position remained as before and shelling and mortaring of our positions continued.
1000 Under command in place of 17/21 Lancers (less one squadron), who rejoined 26 Armoured Brigade, 19 NZ Armoured Brigade came under command 10 Infantry Brigade.
At first light, there was no change in the situation. The next stage in the operation was the move forward to cut the railway and the roads running west from Cassino and accordingly the GOC ordered the Brigade Commander to mount an attack to accomplish the preliminary to this, destined to secure pt 50 853188, pt 58 848188 and the lines of the road at K 32. The attack was prepared therefore by 2 Beds and Herts with in support C Squadron 19 NZ Armoured Regiment and only awaited the GOC’s decision as to time. Today it was beginning to be clear that the enemy would make an effort soon to clear his troops out of the trap at Cassino and so it was expected that the attack of the Beds and Herts would
a) Meet no opposition at all if the enemy had managed to extricate most of his troops during night 15/16 May
b) Meet the fiercest resistance from enemy positions designed to keep open, for the purpose of evacuation the road and tracks over the shoulder of Monastery Hill.
As it turned out, when at 1830 hrs, 2 Beds and Herts attacked through the positions of 2 Royal Fusiliers with right A Coy and left D Coy, resistance encountered was in the extreme stubborn. Firstly 2 RF were not occupying pt 50 as had been reported by them and so difficulties were encountered on the start line. For pt 50, the hardest coy action was fought in the worst visibility and contact with most of the tanks was lost. The coy commander, Major SF Rayner, was wounded early on and his 2.i.c. Captain H Hollick was also wounded. The latter very gallantly continued to command the company for some hours until a relief was sent up. On the left, the same story was told by D Coy and confused fighting took place short of the objective. Major SF Charkham, the company commander, was killed short of pt 58. By nightfall, it was not clear where the leading troops were and it was thought that all were short of the objectives and had suffered fairly heavy casualties. Consolidation
was ordered on positions gained and about 25 PoWs were sent back. Other enemy reaction was slight during the day and thus the situation remained until first light 17 May.
Two operations took place today both of which showed that the enemy had either gone completely from Cassino or no longer considered it necessary to hold south of the town. On the right, 2 DCLI occupied pt 55 without opposition and, finding it unsuitable to consolidate, moved back to their original positions on pt 63. On the left, 2 Beds and Herts moved forward to occupy the objectives of last night’s attack to find small groups of their own people already there and no opposition from the Bosche. In succession, the railway and the road were crossed and by nightfall, the bttn was established in a strong position short of the outskirts of Cassino with 1/6 Surreys moved up behind them in the area of Mass de Vivo and pt 50 853188.
1000 GOC ordered the Brigade Commander to prepare to attack and capture Cassino am on 18 May 1944. Accordingly the attack was planned in accordance with the Brigade Commander’s original outline plan and in conjunction with 1 Guards Brigade.
2000 A report from 4 Division was received to the effect that the enemy intended to withdraw from Cassino and the Monastery on the night of 17/18 May and a later report again from a ‘Y’ source confirmed this. Accordingly the Brigade Commander ordered 2 Beds and Herts and 2 DCLI to establish strong patrols covering the southern exits from Cassino and at first light to push forward to discover the situation at the Baron’s Palace and Colosseum.
Nothing was heard of the enemy during the night except for contributory proof in the bombing raid which took place and demonstrations of light signals from the Monastery that the enemy was pulling out. At first light, patrols found the Baron’s Palace and Colosseum undefended and took several PoW who gave themselves up. 6 Surreys were then pushed through, reached Hotel Des Roses by 1100 hrs opposed and sent forward B Coy to the Continental to mop up forward of there and link up with 1 Guards Brigade who have been in situ throughout the operation. One unfortunate incident marred the day before 1400 hrs when all troops were withdrawn from the town. During some enemy shelling, an officer from 6 Surreys took shelter in a house and set off a booby trap which 5 minutes later detonated a large explosive charge which killed Major Maggs MC, OC B Coy, who was at that moment standing outside the house.
Wef 1400 hrs, 10 Infantry Brigade were withdrawn east of the River Gari to assembly areas behind Monte Trocchio prepared to rest in area Alife 19 May.