26 Armoured Brigade

11th – 12th May.

17/21 Lancers moved out to forward tank assembly area at 2359 hrs and had assembled there by 0100 hrs 12 May. Troop 17/21 Lancers which was detached to carry out diversionary shoot moved out at 2240 hrs and rejoined the regiment at 0110 hrs having completed its task.

The remainder of the brigade (2 Lothians, Main Brigade HQ, 165 Light Field Ambulance, Brigade Wksps and 250 FDS) moved up to concentration area and were all in by 0420 hrs.

The infantry assault across the river met by opposition and two of the three bridge sites were under direct MG fire which made them work on them impossible. Amazon bridge site was under heavy mortar fire and sniping and the smoke screen mixing with the heavy mist in the valley made work very difficult.

At 0630 hrs, 17/21 Lancers were ordered to move two troops which had been waterproofed to area of farm La Pieta but it proved impossible to find a ford.

At 0645 hrs, neither of the assaulting brigades had reached the first objective, 28 Brigade on the left having suffered very heavy casualties

12th May.

1240 17/21 Lancers recced two routes to Plymouth and Oxford bridges with a view to passing the regiment through 8 Indian Division sector to turn north when San Angelo had been cleared.

1300 17/21 Lancers moved half a squadron north of Monte Trocchio to meet an enemy tank threat from area 8319 but not tank threat materialised.

12th – 13th May.

Owing to heavy casualties to 28 Brigade, bttns of 12 Brigade were committed and 2 Lothians moved to area of 12 Brigade behind Monte Trocchio.

13th May.

0415 Amazon bridge completed.

0545 Half a squadron of 17/21 Lancers across Amazon and had trouble with mines on the far side – by 0630 hrs, leading squadron 17/21 Lancers were clear of the bridge and were assisting in mopping up and leading squadrons of 2 Lothians were crossing.

Visibility was about 20 yards and forward infantry were 1000 at the most north west of Amazon.

0900 A Squadron 2 Lothians with 6 Black Watch were trying to move south across the Piopetto but both bridge layer tanks of Brigade HQ troop had been knocked out and they were held up. Visibility improved to about 400 yards.

1020 C Squadron 2 Lothians and 2 Royal Fusiliers over Amazon. The two remaining squadrons of 2 Lothians and 17/21 Lancers were preparing to cross.

Very confused fighting continued all day, complicated by smoke, going and lack of room of manoeuvre. Mortar fire on the bridgehead was heavy and there was much sniping with rifles and LMGs, particularly on the bridge site. Small numbers of enemy tanks and single SP guns were encountered.

1700 Situation became a little clearer. 2 Lothians in support of 12 Brigade had C Squadron with 2 Royal Fusiliers, A Squadron with 6 Black Watch at 847183, and B Squadron with 1 Royal West Kents at 843173.

17/21 Lancers – A Squadron succeeded in getting about half the squadron over the Piopetto and were supporting 2/4 Hampshires, who had reached the high ground south of the stream. C Squadron was supporting DCLI on pt 63 at 858190 and B Squadron were in reserve in 10 Brigade at 860185.

There was little change in the situation during the rest of the day. Tac HQ returned to Main HQ at dark and the Brigade Commander went to HQ 78 Division for orders.

14th May.

0015 Brigade came under command 78 Division and netted to them. 16/5 Lancers returned under command 26 Armoured Brigade and netted to Brigade command net.

Plan: 78 Division and 16/5 Lancers to cross 8 Indian Division bridge Oxford and Congo bridge if ready, and advance west to carry out original 4 Division intentions, cut Route 6 and effect junction with Polcorps. Tac HQ 26 Armoured Brigade (tanks only) to cross by Amazon behind RHQ 2 Lothians and whole brigade to advance, as leading brigade of 78 Division.

During the night, 8 Field Squadron bridged the Piopetto at 861178 and lifted mines on the south side of stream.

4 NZ Armoured Brigade moved up during the night to take over as tank support to 4 Division.

0530 Tac Brigade HQ moved out in tanks and cross Amazon bridge behind RHQ 2 Lothians at 0720 hrs.

0805 Brigade received orders to push on and not to wait for 16/5 Lancers, who were held up by work on Oxford bridge.

0814 An enemy counter attack reported to be coming in and 17/21 Lancers and 2 Lothians in support of bttns of   Division. This counter attack materialised at about 0830 hrs; it was made by infantry in the north where it was held and by infantry and tanks in the south where it penetrated as far as pt 73 842174 by 1015 hrs.

0940 16/5 Lancers crossed Oxford bridge and moved north to join the rest of the brigade.

1200 C Squadron 2 Lothians on the right were relieved by A Suqadron 17/21 Lancers, whose place was taken by B Squadron 16/5 Lancers, who were coming up from the south.

1345 4 Division agreed to release armoured regiments and 17/21 Lancers were ordered to take over lead from 2 Lothians and push on.

1400 Further enemy counter attack supported by a small number of tanks came in on north flank of the bridgehead but this was repelled. During the early afternoon, enemy made three fighter bomber attacks on Amazon bridge but did not hit it. Enemy mortar and nebelwerfer fire continued to be fairly heavy throughout the day.

1445 The state of Shermans: 17/21 Lancers – 1, 2 Lothians – 29, a large proportion of tank casualties had been from bogging due to the state of the approaches and exits to the bridge and to very bad visibility.

There was no further change in the situation for the rest of the day, and the night was spent in the same areas. Spasmodic enemy shelling throughout the night.

15th May.

0915 Tac Brigade HQ at 861182, 16/5 Lancers at 857196, 17/21 Lancers 858180 and 2 Lothians 859183.

1000 Brigade moved forward in support of units of 78 Division less 2 Lothians, who remained in the same area in support of 4 Division until arrival of NZ armour. By 1225, leading troops of 16/5 Lancers had reached the bound ‘Grafton’ (road Cassino – Pignatoro).

1345 16/5 Lancers were almost up to the road Cassino – Pignatoro in area 8316 and made contact with armoured recce group on their left.

1515 16/5 Lancers left and 17/21 Lancers right on Grafton with troops trying to get forward to the next bound. Enemy A/Tk guns encountered.

1520 Lieut Col JNR Loveday (16/5 Lancers) was killed by nebelwerfer fire while making a plan with the infantry brigade commander. Major GA Gundry 2.i.c. 16/5 Lancers took over command.

1650 Owing to the closeness of the country and difficulties of the infantry and tank liaison, it provide very difficult to get forward. Further plans were made by infantry bttns and, after artillery concentrations, 16/5 Lancers and 17/21 Lancers advanced in support of 38 Infantry Brigade (left) and 11 Infantry Brigade (right) and had secured Grafton by dark with the exception of two pockets of enemy.

2100 2 Lothians reverted to command of 26 Armoured Brigade.

16th May.

The advance was continued behind an artillery barrage with 16/5 Lancers left and 17/21 Lancers right. One troop 17/21 Lancers was detached to watch the open right flank. Enemy tanks and SP guns were reported in small numbers in front of both regiments and several were knocked out.

1040 First objective reached and forward elements on left in area 825174.

1130 17/21 Lancers on Pytchley, having trouble with A/Tk guns from the right. 16/5 Lancers on Pytchley but infantry held up short of the objective by heavy MG fire from left flank.

Pytchley was consolidated and enemy infantry movement successfully engaged – several SP and A/Tk guns were knocked out. Heavy mortar and nebelwerfer fire: several air attacks was made on enemy mortar and gun positions during the afternoon.

1700 Brigade Commander was injured as a result of a ‘near miss’ by an enemy mortar and shortly Dawnay took over command of the brigade as the brigade commander was evacuated.

1835 Enemy movement became noticeable in very thick country on both flanks and a small counter attack began to develop on forward infantry.

1905 Enemy infantry infiltrated on both flanks, especially on the right where they reached Massa di Vivo (8417) and a threat developed to the bridges in area 850174. 2 Lothians in area Vertechi were disposed to meet the threat from the right and Brigade Tac HQ was withdrawn to area of Tac HQ 78 Division area 862176.

2200 The enemy had got troops on to Massa di Vivo but otherwise all was quiet apart from MG harassing fire.

Major Gundry promoted Lieut Col and confirmed in command 16/5 of Lancers.

17th May.

Plan: advance to be continued swinging north. Attack at first light by infantry brigade supported by one troop of 2 Lothians on the right and by B Squadron 16/5 Lancers on the left. On attaining objectives, 2 Lothians to pass round left, keeping east of Piumarola village 804183, where there were known enemy A/Tk guns, and directed on track junctions 809185 and 807186.

There was a very thick mist during the early part of the morning and difficulty was experienced in getting to the start line, but the attacks were put in behind an artillery barrage and went well.

0855 Squadron 16/5 Lancers reported 1 East Surreys on the objective. Troop 2 Lothians also reported on objective, and as soon as objectives had been consolidated, the tanks exploited forward. 2 Lothians, moving round the left, found country very thick and had trouble from enemy snipers.

1130 B Squadron, 1 Derbyshire Yeomanry, came under command 26 Armoured Brigade and was ordered to move on left rear of 2 Lothians to watch that flank, which was exposed to Piumarola.

1200 A Squadron, 16/5 Lancers, were put in support of 6 Innisks (38 Brigade) for an attack on Piumarola during the afternoon.

1225 2 Lothians reported their objective but did not continue owing to closeness of the country and sniping and lack of contact with troops on their right.

1340 16/5 Lancers reported B Squadron and infantry had reached the ridge east of 2 Lothians and were clearing it. Troops on their right reached their objective shortly afterwards.

1410 Tanks were reported in front of B Squadron 16/5 Lancers and 2 Lothians including one Pz KW VI; enemy shelling increased considerably, particularly on 2 Lothians and further advance proved impossible (the Mk VI was never confirmed as such and is believed to have been an SP 88mm – several of these were encountered in the later fighting.

1420 Troops of A Squadron 16/5 Lancers recced forward to the wadi in front of the Piumarola village but had to withdraw to slightly to keep touch with the infantry, who were held up by shelling.

1520 17/21 Lancers were ordered to send one squadron forward as a mobile reserve in an area 500 yards, west of Cassino – Pignatoro road.

A fairly large number of PoWs were taken during the mopping up and at least three SP guns were knocked out.

1820 16/5 Lancers reported A Squadron and 6 Innisks were advancing again and, by 1910 hrs, one troop of tanks had crossed the wadi and, at 1935 hrs, the whole squadron had crossed and had come under heavy shellfire in the village.

Regiments began concentrating in the rear of the forward infantry positions about 1840 hrs and, at 2010, A Squadron 16/5 Lancers were relieved in Piumarola by a battery of M 10s.

2300 A sharp enemy air raid took place on the bridges and tracks leading west from them. The attack was made with HE and anti personnel bombs, low level bombing and common strafing, but very few casualties were caused.

18th May.

The plan for the day was for the day was for one squadron 16/5 Lancers to support 38 (Irish) Brigade to secure a line from Piumarola cross tracks to 802179; and on the left for 36 Brigade with 17/21 Lancers under command to advance to clear the area immediately south of the Rio Piopetto swinging north west. 16/5 Lancers less one squadron and 2 Lothians to remain in command under command of brigade.

0945 C Squadron 16/5 Lancers cross start line 819180 – 810171and, by 1000, had secured objective without making contact.

1115 Cassino and Monastery Hill were reported clear and in Allied hands. 17/21 Lancers had considerable difficulty in getting across the Piopetto to their start line and several alterations in the plan were made. The attack went in at 1201 hrs. but it soon became evident that the enemy had broken contact and had pulled back in the direction of the Aquino – Pontecorvo defence line. Patrols of Armoured Recce Group were moving quickly north west, east of Frome d’Aquino and meeting only small enemy parties and no real opposition.

1430 17/21 Lancers had reached 794175 and 797179 with infantry in front of them. They continued to advance but speed was governed by speed of infantry and by the country which cut down visibility to 40-50 yards. A plan was made to lift a bttn of infantry on the backs of the tanks. Finally at 1855 hrs, 17/21 Lancers reverted to command 26 Armoured Brigade and were ordered to make an armoured advance as fast as possible to the south east edge of Aquino airport, which had already been reached by 1 Derbyshire Yeomanry and reported clear except for small scattered enemy parties.

1900 Brigade Commander (Colonel Dawnay) was given command of a force comprising Armoured Recce Group (1 Derbyshire Yeomanry, 10 Rifle Brigade, two support batteries 72 A/Tk Regiment) and 17/21 Lancers. This force was ordered to move as quickly as possible to an area just east of Aquino and to try and seize the village in cooperation with 36 Brigade, then to patrol beyond the village, which had already been reached by patrols of 1 Derbyshire Yeomanry and push on as far as possible. At the time, it was believed that 1 Derbyshire Yeomanry patrols were beyond Aquino but, in fact, there were no troops west of the village.

1910 Brigade Commander moved off with a small Tac HQ to RV with COs of 17/21 Lancers, 10 RB and 1 Derbyshire Yeomanry at 767196.

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