Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


2 LIR – December 1943

The 2 LIR starts the month approaching the south bank of the River Moro. Beyond is the eastern extremity of the German Winter Line which extends across the Italian peninsula to the pivotal strongpoint at Monte Cassino. Allied commanders decide to make one last big effort to break through the German line and race to Pescara to the north and to Rome in the West. The battalion and the brigade is however exhausted and depleted and the decision is to take them out of the line for rest and reinforcement. The battalion is replaced by Canadian units on 5 December and eventually moves inland to Campobasso. The Allied assault on German positions north of the River Moro starts on 6 December. After three weeks, it is recognised that the Winter Line cannot be broken in the east and the attack is discontinued. Preparations are made to transfer the main strength of the 8th Army to the west to support an attempted breakthrough in and around Cassino. The battle for the Moro however results in heavy casualties for the Canadians.

Highlights of the second half of the month include the appointment of Lt Colonel Ion Goff as the battalion’s commanding officer. Major-General Keightley takes over as commander of the 78th Division. Captain Mervyn Davies and Lieutenant Nicholas Mosley join E Company.

The battalion is has an enjoyable Christmas in comparatively comfortable surroundings. On 27 December it moves out to new defensive positions in the high Apennines. The battalion deploys in and around Montenero on 31 December just as heavy snow engulfs the region.


 1 December

Intermittent enemy shelling throughout the day in area of Bridge 631795.

0430 E Company report that there are still a few enemy in Rocca.

0800 Barrage to support F Company into Rocca is cancelled and G Company enter village without opposition. A few PWs were taken.

0800 Report from Bde states that a German counter-attack on the Lanciano-Mozzagrogna road last night was successfully repulsed by 2 NZ Division.

1030 E Company join G Company forward of the village of Rocca and advance up the Rocca-San Vito road. Command group follows these two companies.

1500 E Company report enemy in area 355051, strength about one platoon. Civilians also report that the bridge 368074 was blown at 1000 hours today.

1530 Commanding Officer asks for tanks to come forward in support of the companies and one hour later F Company were linked up with them.

1630 Patrols were sent out to find routes across the ravine in front of the forward companies which was deep and narrow with precipitous sides.

F Company and tanks arrive and take up position in general area 362067.

1730 Commanding Officer reports general situation to Bde. Companies have reached ravine at bridge 368074. Bridge blown. Enemy hold Treglio ridge on further side of ravine with about two companies. The ground rises very steeply to those positions and an attack tonight would be difficult.

Bde Commander orders that the battalion must get across, if not at first light then as soon after as possible.

1920 H Company ordered forward. Battalion HQ to remain in Rocca.


2 December

0200 It was thought that the right flank offered the best approach across the ravine. Patrols returned at 0200hrs and said that this would not be possible, so plan were changed accordingly for an attack to go in and the bridgehead established from the left flank.

At first light F Company and H Company crossed the ravine to secure high ground east of Treglio. Advance 300 yards and were held up by heavy automatic and machine gun fire. All attempts to advance were frustrated and several enemy counter-attacks were beaten off.

1030 Enemy counter-attacks petering out. E Company mopping up area behind forward companies.

1800 6 Inniskilling and tanks to attack along axis s-Treglio road, as forward companies were withdrawn to the other side of the ravine.

T/Major J D Lofting (RUR) wounded in action.

W/Lieutenant M W Gentle (RUR) wounded in action.


3 December

0530 In conjunction with the attack from Lanciano towards Treglio, G and H companies crossed the ravine in the bridge area followed by F Company and a bridgehead was established.

Companies were disposed as follows:

G Company area 368076

F Company area 372080

H Company area 375083

E Company area 375083

Battalion HQ at 370073

1500 Battalion relieved by Canadian Battalion and moves up to a concentration area south of San Vito at 362097.

Commanding Officer’s orders were to move forward and establish one company as early as possible during the night to the high ground to the west about 380105. Using the company as a base, to patrol with a second to the River Moro and to gain information about the bridge 337017 and crossings across the river to the north and south of it.

1900 E Company move forward to establish themselves on the high.

2200 E Company reported in position. H Company ordered forward to contact E and patrol to river.


4 December

0100 H Company’s patrols report enemy between 350105 and the river.

0200 G Company and Command Post move forward to join E & H companies.

0400 Companies make contact with enemy. Enemy patrols around with automatic weapons reported by companies and 1 RIrF to be on our right.

0600 1 RIrF reported north of San Vito supported by tanks. During the advance in the night there were still a considerable number of enemy who remained undetected and at first light the task of clearing them out began.

0700 1 squadron of 44 Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) arrive to assist battalion in clearing area.

0830 Battalion was established on the high ground overlooking the Moro as follows:

Battalion HQ established at 348112

E Company – 337100

F Company – 343108

G Company – 340113

H Company – 338109

6 Inniskillings now in San Vito.

Trouble was experienced on the right flank and F Company supported by tanks cleared the area and were then established at 344117.

1200 Commanding Officer reports to the brigadier that the attack ordered across the river Moro would be difficult owing to strength of battalion (about two platoons per company) and the difficulty of engaging the enemy with artillery and mortar fire because of the ground. The commanding is ordered to make up best plan he can while situation is being reviewed higher up.

1300 Bridge on River Moro is blown.

Company positions shelled and mortared spasmodically throughout the day.

1315 Intelligence officer and six other ranks of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry to recce positions with a view to the battalion taking over from us.

1400 22 prisoners of war brought in. Identified as belonging to 361 Panzer Group (50 Panzer Group) Division.

1730 H Company report three guns firing from about two miles north of their positions. Artillery lay down UNCLE target. Result – extremely accurate. MMGs and mortars brought up to support forward companies. The battalion is now firmly established along the line of the river Moro, although very tired.

1900 Battle patrol go out to area of bridge to observe and shoot any enemy. They spent a quiet night.

2000 Message – battalion to be relieved tomorrow.

6 Inniskillings and 2 Canadian battalions move up into position on the left flank of the battalion.

T/Captain G Fitzgerald (RUR) joined from x(iv) List.


5 December

0600 Battalion spent a quiet night except for spasmodic shelling.

1100 Own artillery shell enemy positions on other side of River Moro.

1330 Enemy aircraft bomb bridge area 368074.

2030 Relief of battalion completed and move back to area of bridge 358075 – a position held two days previously.

2030 Enemy continue to shell San Vito-Rocca area.


6 December

0100 Battalion in position in reserve area

Companies in position:

E Company 375081

F Company 374081

G Company 372080

6 Innisks at 368043

1 RIF at 366030

Battalion remain in present location all day.

2000 Canadian RASC transport arrives.


7 December

0845 Battalion embosses in transport

0900 Battalion moves off to concentration area in Casalbordino.

1000 Convoy held up for 1 ¾ hours owing to north bound traffic passing over the Bailey Bridge across Sangro.

1300 Battalion arrives in Casalbordino.


8 December

Warning order received for battalion to move to division concentration area in Campobasso area.

2345 Battalion embusses and moves off in Brigade convoy.


9 December

0600 Convoy halts. Breakfast.

0730 Convoy moves off again.

1330 Battalion arrives in new area.

Battalion HQ, G Company and H Company in Pietra (9427)

E Company, F Company and S Company in San Marco (8425)

Billets not good and village itself in filthy condition. 2 i/c recces new billet for Battalion HQ at present established in the castle.

W/Lieutenant E F Daly (RUR) joined from x(iv) list.


10 December

1300 Battalion HQ moves to cleaner billets in village. Report from brigade; 11 brigade and 56 Recce have moved forward into the line on 5 division front. Battalion warned to move to areas evacuated by 11 Brigade. Battalion rests.


11 December

1200 Battalion recce party under Captain Grannell reports to Bde HQ to recce billets in new area.

Battalion casualties for period 30 November-4 December during the Sangro battle- 15 killed and 45 wounded.

Lt RQM D Aitkenhead (RUR) admitted to ADS. 


12 December

1000 Church parades

Battalion rests and baths.

2 officers go to divisional rest camp in Campobasso.

W/Lieutenant E G Condy (RUR) disposed by GCM.

W/Lieutenant J D Searles (RUR) posted to x(ii) List (Hospital)

1000 Commanding officer’s inspection of billets.

Battalion rests.

35 other ranks to divisional rest camp in Campobasso.

T/Captain J D O’Rourke joined battalion from x(iv) List

W/Lt F Lyness (RUR) and W/Lt T W H Wilson (RUR) posted to x(i) List.


14 December

Battalion rests.


15 December

Battalion rests


16 December

Day leave for 50 other ranks starts in Lucera.

Personnel return from rest camp Campobasso.

W/Lt M D H Webb-Bowen and W/Lt G Cole joined from battalion from HQ 38 (Irish) Infantry Brigade.


17 December

Battalion is offered 250 vacancies in billet in Campobasso.

Accepted.

Advanced party warned and standing by.


18 December

Day leave parties to Lucera.

Battalion rests.


19 December

Lt Col I M Goff Kings (Liverpool) Regiment takes over command of the battalion.

Lt Col H Rogers admitted to hospital and posted to x(ii) List. Day leave parties to Lucera.


20 December

1030 The new divisional commander Major-General Keightley visits the battalion. Met company commanders. Also spoke to officers and senior NCOs. He inspected billets of HQ Company, G Company and H Company. Divisional commander was accompanied by the Brigadier. Day leave parties as usual to Lucera.

1400 Advance party from E and G Company under Captain J D White MC moves to Campobasso.


21 December

0830 E & G companies proceed to billets in Campobasso in Brigade transport.

1800 Lt Col Goff visited sergeants’ mess and spoke to Warrant Officers and Sergeants.

T/Major D W Conroy posted to x(ii) List.


22 December

Battalion prepares for Christmas activities.

Local purchases made. A/Capt Glasgow (RUR) to x(ii) List.

The under-mentioned officers joined from x(iv) List:-

T/Captain D H M Davies (Welch)

W/Lt H Culverhouse (Royal Engineers)

W/Lt J D Searles (RUR)

W/Lt K V H Wessels (UDF)

W/Lt H N D Seymour MC (RUR)

A/Captain J St Maur-Shiel (RUR)

W/Lt A S Hunter (Middlesex)

Lt & QM D Aitkenhead (RUR)

W/Lt F Ebing (UDF)

W/Lt C Cramb (UDF)

W/Lt M Hawkins (Rifle Brigade)

W/Lt N Mosley (Rifle Brigade)

W/Lt J R Bruckmann (UDF)


23 December

Leave party proceeds to rest camp – Campobasso.

Issue of ribbon of North Africa Star authorised by commanding officer to all eligible personnel on Christmas Day.


24 December

Warning order for battalion to move on 27/12/43 to Carpinone.

Special order of the day received from the Brigadier congratulating battalion on its victories in the Italian campaign and conveying Christmas and New Year greetings.

Special order of the day issued by Commanding Officer conveying his Christmas greetings to all ranks.

1900 Band of HM Irish Guards visit battalion and give concert. An excellent performance, greatly appreciated by all ranks.


25 December

1030 Church of England and Roman Catholic church parades.

Brigadier visited Battalion. Visited officers and Sergeants messes and then attended men’s dinners and was vigorously cheered. Christmas dinner was excellent and greatly appreciated by all. 2 i/c (Major HEN Bredin MC and Bar) and Intelligence Officer went to companies in Campobasso and visited Christmas dinner there.


26 December

0900 Advance party proceeds to Carpinone.

1030 Leave parties return from Campobasso.

Battalion packs up and prepares to leave.


27 December

0930 Battalion (less det Campobasso and road post at Motta) left Pietra for Carpinone. Anti-tank platoon attached to 254 Anti-Tank Battery Royal Artillery for training and firing.

1600 Convoy makes good time and arrives in Carpinone in daylight.


28 December

0400 Advance parties from F, H, HQ and S companies leave for Campobasso.

1300 E and G companies arrive in battalion area from Campobasso.

1430 Remainder of F Company, H Company and parties from HQ and S companies to monastery billets in Campobasso. It is hoped for them to have three or four days there.

1 platoon from H company under the command of Lt Searles reports to Army HQ in Vasto for Guard duties.


29 December

1000 Brigadier visits billets in Carpinone.

2000 Warning order received for Battalion Q and O Groups to move to 11 Brigade HQ at Forli for recce of battalion area in Montenero 0545.

Battalion to take over from 5 Northants.

2100 Companies recalled from Campobasso. To report in to Carpinone by 1200 hours 30/13/43.

T/Captain W B B Glasgow (RUR) joined from x(ii) List.


30 December

0750 Commanding Officer and his O Group move off to Forli.

1200 F and H companies detachments from HQ & S companies arrive in Carpinone.

1300 Battalion warned to move to Forli at 1430 hrs. To pass Brigade SP at 1400 hrs.

1415 Battalion embosses and moves off to Brigade SP.

1440 Battalion passes Brigade SP halts on road just below Rionero 1145 until dark. 1 Troop number 10 Belgian Commando joins Battalion convoy and is under command 2 LIR for future operations.

1900 Battalion arrives in Montenero 0545.

Companies move out of take over from forward companies of 5 Northants and B Company 1 East Surreys.


31 December

0200 Companies and Battalion established in Montenero.

F Company – Alto 0447

E Company – Calvario 0346

G Company – Il Monte 0342

H & Battalion HQ in Montenero 035829.

0800 Commanding Officer calls O Group to discuss future policy.

H Company commander to plan defence of Montenero with all available troops.

Number 10 Belgian Commando to become mobile reserve and will probably do active patrols as they are experienced in snow warfare and high altitude conditions. Weather deteriorates during the day and heavy fall of snow.

1600 G Company engage enemy patrol of about 40 men in their company area. Engagement lasted about 1 hour but due to bad weather conditions and heavy snow little could be seen. Casualties – 1 killed. 1 enemy believed killed but body was not found in the deep snow.

1630 Commando patrol of 2 officers and 30 men go out to 063465 and 065476 to protect ration convoy expected through.

1730 Forward companies report high winds extreme cold and blizzard setting in. Snow 2-3 feet.

2200 2 jeeps attempt to get through to Montenero but are bogged in heavy snow drift.

Ration convoy unable to get through to Battalion tonight.

2300 Forward companies report shocking weather conditions. Depth of snow increasing. All shelters and bivouacs broken down by weight of snow.