London Irish attack on Heidous on 22 April 1943

Report on action of F Coy, 2 LIR in the attack on Heidous 22 April 1943

At 1930hrs, the Coy moved up to the FUP and crossed the Start Line at 2000 hrs. This lateness over the Start Line was deliberate owing to the anxiety not to be seen in the fading light.

(NA 3141): Heidous Hill Copyright: © IWM. 

Good progress was made under the noise of the barrage until the company reached the valley which was shrouded in a thick mist. Under the instructions of the Coy Commander, the Coy halted and closed up and thereafter marched on a compass bearing. The visibility was nil but the entire Coy arrived at the correct position of assault at the foot of the wall running into the position. The two forward Platoons advanced up the hill at 2040 hrs; at once the German fixed lines opened up from the village and from several places on the ridge. They fired off several 2” mortars into the gully where the reserve Platoon and Coy HQ were waiting. These were practically harmless. The forward Platoons went up the hill with great spirit and determination. Two prisoners quickly came back with a runner who said that the two Platoons were held up at the edge of the village. The Coy Company climbed up and found a grenade duel in progress and decided put in the reserve Platoon on the left. This Platoon, under Sgt Norman, went hard up the hill and on the crest came under heavy machine gun fire. The Platoon Commander was hit and two or three others as well so that this attack was also checked.

The Coy Commander came up and together with Coy HQ, less Signallers, led in another assault. Grenades were hurled on both sides and our own men were again checked although one section seemed to have got through. It was then decided by the Coy Commander, although slightly wounded on the head, to draw back the remains of this Platoon and HQ and return to the gully in order to attack on the right flank.

Accordingly a small force collected themselves at the bottom of the gully. At this moment, Mr Hughes reported that the two Platoons were still held up on the edge of the village and that the village seems to be full of German. He was told to return and tell Mr Rowlette that the Company Commander’s intention was to attack on the right. By this time, the hillside was under heavy mortar fire as was the village itself. The Brens of the forward Platoons were firing hard and all the Bosche fixed line positions were under fire. Just before the new attacking force moved off, Cpl Palmer of Mr Rowlette’s Platoon brought the welcome news that his Platoon had got into the village and that he knew of a clear run into the village. And so under his guidance, the small force breasted the hill amidst mortar fire. In the murk and confusion, Cpl Palmer must have lost his way for suddenly fire opened up from two areas. Cpl Palmer fell and was badly wounded. The remaining Bren Gunner was hit in the leg and a fragment of a grenade hit the Company Commander on the temple. The latter seized the Bren and with a burst silenced one of the Bosche MGs. He then decided to work further down the gully to the right with a view to finding another way into the village near G Company’s objective.

By this time, the force had dwindled to two signallers and two runners and the Coy Commander left them there and went on with Rifleman Whiteside, who had already faced up to the Bosche with great pluck. It now became a stalk rather than an attack. All this time, the Brens of the other Platoons were firing strongly on the village. Crawling along the ditch under a fixed line, the Coy Commander with the Bren and with Whiteside ahead made his way to where the gully descended at the right end of the village.

They then began a very difficult rock climb and were swiped at from the left all the way. Whiteside scouted the way ten yards away and was then followed by the perspiring Coy Commander with the Bren. Near the top of the cliff, they were fired at and grenaded but a burst from the Bren got both of these and a minute later the two bodies were seen in a circular weapon pit. Mortar fire came down quickly in the area, following the Bren burst and a piece of shrapnel pierced the left foot of the Coy Commander. They eventually reached the crest and looked down into the flat green space under the lower ridge (G Coy’s objective). Some figures were wandering on the skyline of this crest in the way our troops do and the Company Commander cried out “Maurice” (this being the name of G Coy Commander). The reply came in German and implored “Adolph” to do something about the infiltration on the right.

Adolph and a dozen men came running towards the Coy Commander and Whiteside and as they ran, a long burst of fire came into our hole in the rocks. The gallant Whiteside sagged without noise but he was not dead but certainly severely wounded. The Company Commander waited until Adolph and his friends were within a few yards and then flung his remaining 36 into their midst. It went off and in the confusion, he crawled over the rocks and rolled, slipped and ran ‘arse over tit’; down over the sloping cliff. By this time, bleeding in about four places, he decided to contact the Commanding Officer so as to make best use of the other Companies. After a laborious crawl, contact was made with the Commanding Officer.

As a result of this action, Rfn Whiteside is strongly recommended for a decoration and Cpl Palmer for a Mention in Despatches.

JW Dunnill Major, OC F Coy.