The London Irish Rifles in Sicily – Crossing the Simeto river

At first light on 5th August, E Coy moved forward and occupied Carcaci and its immediate vicinity without opposition. Bttn HQ and H Coy moving to just north of the Railway Station at 693960.

During the morning, it became apparent that the river was held strongly with snipers and MG posts and a staged attack would be necessary on the battalion front to join the bridgehead. Mortars and MGs had been moved up and a sharp exchange of fire took place across the river during the morning. The forward platoon of E Coy were pinned to the ground but kept the enemy from concentrating their attention on the two right hand companies.

At approximately 1015 hrs, about fifty of the enemy were seen trying to work round the left flank of the battalion. These were dealt with by fire from E Coy supported by mortars of the Brigade Support Group, 3″mortars and MMGs. Later the Canadians came up on our left and completed the discomfiture of these enemy. E Coy, thereafter being in close cooperation with the Canadians. In addition, recce patrols from E Coy reported MG and sniper positions, but no organised defence this side of the river.

At 1500 hrs, the attack to gain the bridgehead began with full artillery support and also from the heavy mortars of the Brigade Support Group.

F Coy attacked on the right with their objective Yellow House 703957 and pt 253 707957. H Coy on the left with their objective 705960 to pt 251 702963. G Coy, Mortars and MMGs to support from the near bank. E Coy and Bttn HQ to remain in their present location.

The crossing of the battalion across the river was difficult as it was swift in many places and had deep hole where the water was shoulder high. On the average, the water was about knee deep. The further bank of the river was precipitous and rocky with only three places where the men could get up, this forming bottlenecks, which had to be crossed. Here F Coy sustained a few casualties including the leading Platoon Commander, Lieut Allen, who was killed. The remaining two platoons moved round to the right of the first platoon and after little fighting took up positions in the Yellow House area. Lieut Daly, Sgt Kelly and a handful of men managed to occupy the house, but having insufficient support, were eventually forced to withdraw. The left hand platoon had worked its way forward slightly and, by this time, was held up. As time went on, the whole company was pinned to the ground due to the lack of cover. This situation was not satisfactorily cleared up until the 6 Innisks cleared up the situation on our right and reoccupied the Yellow House, some hours later.

H Coy, on the left, had similar experiences but lost more men from sniper and MG posts. They had a difficult advance with 17 Platoon going well forward clearing MG posts and snipers, very well led by their Platoon Commander, Lieut Clarke, until they were held up. The other two platoons moved round the right of 17 Platoon, 16 Platoon leading. This platoon took up positions some distance forward in an olive grove and 18 Platoon moved through them to clear further MG posts, which were harassing the company from the left flank in the Viaduct area. Attacking an MG post, they sustained casualties including the Platoon Commander, Lieut Howells, who was killed.

Although gaining their objectives, H Coy were also pinned down and digging in was difficult.

E Coy about 1800 hrs contacted H Coy across the river and a coordinated fire plan was made. At the same time, mortars and MMGs were manhandled forward across the river to support F and H Coys.

As dusk approached, G Coy, which had been giving invaluable covering fire during the whole of the attack, moved across the river with reserve ammunition and took up a position on the left flank of H Coy. As sniping ceased, consolidation was completed and by 2230 hrs the position was firmly established.

During the night, the enemy withdrew and the next morning, a strong fighting patrol, commanded by Lieut Lyness, reported the nearest enemy posts on the hills half way to Aderno.

As already stated, terrain and having to carry everything required with the chief difficulties to be overcome. Luckily water proved no problem as it was abundant. After crossing the River Salso, the transport problem was eased considerably. A lateral wireless link between battalions was invaluable on more than one occasion.