It was just after Christmas, on the 29th December, near Goubellat.
During the night, one of our patrols brought in a prisoner. He was prepared to talk and he told us quite a lot about what we wanted to know. So, in the morning – after our plot had been hatched, we went out on a set up – two companies with supporting arms. It was the first time that the Bttn had been in action and we were all excited. We know the enemy – who were of the Herman Goering Regiment, crack troops, forming the personal bodyguard of the German Field Marshal – had only moved into their new forward positions overnight. We also knew that they had no close support artillery. We were confident of dislodging them.
On the first beat of our sweep, we encountered no opposition. As occasional sniper’s bullet pinged away over our heads and a bren opened up now and again as an enthusiastic and over keyed gunner imagined he saw movement in some Arab farm or cactus plantation with which the undulating country was studded.
We came to the end of the beat. The Companies consolidated and prepared to swing on right handed to the final objective, a ridge on which two Mosques, gleaming whitely in the sun, were visible some fifteen hundred yards away. But there was something doing. The Platoon Commander of the leading platoon made a “Halt” signal. Watching him closely, we saw a search party go into a little mud hut.
They came out a few minutes later with a number of machine gun belts – German belts right enough – so we must be getting near the Bosche. Perhaps that was one of their outposts, only occupied at night.
There was a delay for a while and reports were made; then came the signal to advance again. We swung to the right, down into a little dip, heading for the Mosques. As the leading platoon – spread out in extended order – topped the crest of the next rise, there was a crackle from in front and suddenly the air around us was thick with bullets.
The Bosche machine gunners shot viciously – long bursts of fifty or sixty rounds came skimming over the ridge in front and only a foot or so over our heads, as we lay pressed close against the earth. We couldn’t see where the fire was coming from as we were under the crest of the ridge. So we rolled down, just as they taught us at the battle school, into the deepest part of the dip. Here it was safe to stand up again, for the bursts were well over head. We advanced on, forward up the ridge – crawling for the last forty yards and real crawling too ! Peering over the ridge, we could see that where the Bosche were shooting from. They were dug in around the Mosques. Through the glasses, it was easy to see the freshly dug earth round their slit trenches, and the curl of smoke and the flash of the machine guns. Some of our fellows had crawled into fire positions now and the short bursts of the Bren were making a welcome reply.
The Bosche fire got less intense. He was having to keep his head down now. Our platoons crawled out, extending themselves right and left along the ridge, and Bren after Bren opened up. Soon our fore predominated and it must have been pretty hot for them down at the Mosques. But soon it was to be a great deal hotter, for a heavy Mortar was being brought up. Its Carrier got bogged up in the early stages of the advance, but the crew commandeered an Arab donkey and cart and this got it right up forward. They had to manhandle it the last few hundred yards as the Arab got scared and refused to go on any further. However, the crew had it quickly in position and ready to fire. The first bomb dropped very short, but the second was better and the third and fourth right on the Mosques. Down came five rounds rapid, then five more.
There was no fire coming back at us now and it was quite safe to kneel up on the ridge. Someone on the left shouted “Look! They are running away.” And sure enough the Bosche had had enough. He was getting out of his trenches and getting back as fast as his legs would carry him. He was wily though, for he dodged about and made use of the cactus and scrub to get onto the reverse slopes. Some of the Bren gunners never saw him at all – a field grey figure is not conspicuous at 800 yards against a background of scrub. But many did and the artillery officer thought there were enough of them to make it worthwhile putting down a crump. So the Hermann Goerings had a hot time getting out. A platoon of ours then went forward – down to the Mosques – and there they found plenty of evidence of casualties. We had only one man killed and two wounded. We had a very successful first encounter with the enemy, and we went home feeling very confident for the future.