Irish Brigade

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

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


Sangro River

This is the title given to the battle in which the German winter line was broken. The river had, in fact, been crossed and the bridgehead established by 11 and 36 Brigades. It was from this bridgehead that the attack was launched. For the operation, the Bttn had trained with 44 RTR and, in fact, on 20 November, had moved forward, carried on tanks, from Cassalbordino. The operation, as originally intended, should have begun on 21 November but wet weather necessitated it being postponed.

At 1830hrs on 27 November, the Bttn left Cassalbordino carried in motor transport and after debussing east of the River Sangro moved across the river to a lying up area under the escarpment about 402008. This was reached by 0230hrs on 28 November. Here the Bttn married up with S Coy and 44 RTR, who had already moved across two days previously.

8 Indian Division had attacked Mozzagrogna (3600) and San Maria (3601) during the night 27/28 November. Had this attack gone according to plan, the 6 Innisks were to have captured the R Li Colli feature (3702) early on 28th November and been followed by 2 LIR in support of 44 RTR, who were to form up astride the road San Maria-Fossacesia. From this position, the defences on the Fossacesia Ridge were to be rolled up.

The attack by 8 Indian Division was unsuccessful and the situation in the Mozzagrogna – San Maria area was very confused all day on 28 November. It was, therefore, decided that the Irish Brigade and 4 Armoured Brigade (less one Bttn) would capture San Maria and R Li Colli on the morning of 29 November and then roll up the enemy defences from San Maria to the sea.

The outline plan was as follows:

Phase I

At dawn, 6 Innisks, supported by 3 County of London Yeomanry (3 CLY) were to capture R Li Colli and  San Maria. 8 A & SH to take over the defence of San Maria after its capture. While this was in progress, 44 RTR and 2 LIR were to move up ready to carry out Phase II of the plan.

Phase II

As soon as Phase I was completed, 44 RTR, supported by 2 LIR, were to move through 6 Innisks and form up astride the road San Maria – Fossacesia. They were to roll up enemy defences up to and including Fossacesia.

Phase III

After a short pause, 44 RTR, supported by 1 RIrF, were to roll up the enemy defences from excluding Fossacesia to the sea.

All these phases were to have full artillery support.

The first phase of the attack went in at dawn on 29 November – the opposition was strong and the ground difficult for tanks. This made the going slow and it was nearly dark before this phase was finally completed. Early in the morning, the Bttn and 44 RTR had moved forward to the area 393015 as planned.

At 1630hrs, the Brigade Commander ordered Phase II to put into operation next morning. Zero hour being provisionally fixed for 0830hrs on 30 November.

As the going across country to the start line was difficult for tanks, it was decided that 44 RTR should go round via the road through Mozzagrogna, which 8 Indian Division had now secured, and San Maria to the start line.

The plan for the attack was as follows:

The lines of enemy defences were divided into seven blocks each 800 yards deep by 400 yards long. All available artillery, having dwelt on the opening line for 30 minutes, was to be concentrated for 10 minutes on each block in turn. At the end of 10 minutes, the artillery lifted from block 1 to block 2. At the end of 20 minutes from block 2 to block 3 and so on.

As soon as the artillery lifted from one block, a squadron and one company of infantry entered it and dealt with the opposition. The coys and squadrons are shown in the sketch.

Blocks 5,6,and 7 were 200 yards deeper (1000 yards in all) in order to include the village of Fossacesia in the fire plan.

Squadrons and companies worked together as follows:

A Squadron and F Coy.

B Squadron and H Coy.

C Squadron and G Coy.

E Coy were not working with any particular squadron but was kept in reserve during the first stages and available to clear the northern part of Fossacesia, of required.

The artillery opening line was 384030 – 379036 and during the 30 minutes from Z to Z + 30, the tanks and infantry moved up as close to it as possible ready to move rapidly forward when the artillery lifted from block 1 to block 2.

The decision to send 44 RTR round by road to the start line necessitated some slight alteration in the preliminary moves. G Coy, being the first coy to go into action with C Squadron, was sent with the tanks and travelled on them to the start line. They left with 44 RTR at 1800hrs on 29 November. The remainder of the Bttn, less S Coy, moved forward to the area 372019 at 0330hrs on 30 November, here to await the arrival of 44 RTR and to marry up with them.

The IO was sent to San Maria with a wireless set to warn the Bttn of the arrival of 44 RTR and as he gave warning of their approach, the coys moved forward and joined them. Except for the fact that 44 RTR were delayed on route by an enemy counter attack on 8 Indian Division, thus necessitating zero hour being put back an hour to 0930hrs, the preliminary moves were completed without difficulty.

The attack was completely successful and by 1300hrs, the ridge and Fossacesia village had been cleared. The artillery concentrations had demoralised the enemy and this, coupled with the appearance of tanks and infantry from a completely unexpected direction, finished them off. Their Defensive Fire task was all prepared for a frontal assault and, when put down, was many hundreds of yards from our troops. Much material and many prisoners were captured at a cost of only two killed and eight wounded.

By 1400hrs, the coys were disposed for the defence of the village of Fossacesia was follows:

F Coy – area 388042.

H Coy – area 394044.

E Coy – area 396048.

G Coy – area 396043.

Bttn HQ – area 395041.

During the afternoon, E Coy sent out a patrol, which found the bridges on the road between Fossacesia and Rocca intact. As a result, G Coy was ordered to move forward at 1700hrs to seize and protect the bridges against demolition. In addition, he reported that the enemy was still in the village of Rocca (3805).

About 2300hrs, orders were issued by the Brigade Commander that active patrolling was to take place into Rocca during the night and the village was to be occupied by G Coy, of clear. If G Coy had not occupied the town by first light, then at 0830hrs on 1 December, the coy, supported by one squadron from 44 RTR, were to seize the village after a preliminary artillery bombardment lasting half an hour.

During the night, patrols reported the village still held but by 0730hrs 1 December, it was apparent that the enemy were leaving. The artillery bombardment was therefore called off and, by 0800hrs, G Coy were established in the village.

The Bttn was now disposed as follows:

G Coy – Rocca 3805.

F Coy – area 388042.

H Coy – area 394044.

E Coy – area 396048.

Bttn Coy at 395041.

The latter four all at Fossacesia.


At 1235hrs on 1 December, 6 Innisks held the area 360 and the Brigade Commander ordered the Bttn to seize and hold the bridge at 368075. Two coys, G and E, were therefore ordered across country, the remainder of the Bttn moving into Rocca, less H Coy, which remained in Fossacesia.

By 1630hrs, G and E Coys were in the general area 365070 when enemy opposition was met. Patrols were sent out to find routes across the ravine, which was deep and narrow with precipitous sides both in front and for a considerable distance to both flanks. By this time, a squadron of 44 RTR had come forward in support; and F Coy, which had been ordered forward some time previously, had also arrived and was in the area 362067.

The Brigade Commander ordered that the ravine must be crossed and a bridgehead established to cover the repair of the bridge if not before first light then as soon after as possible. Full artillery support being available on call. Until the bridge was repaired no tanks or supporting arms could get across unless man handled. Support would have to be given by both from the rear side of the obstacle.

It was thought that the right flank offered the best chance of approach in the area 367077, the bridgehead being cleared and established from the right. Plans were made accordingly. At 0200hrs on 2nd December, a patrol returned with the information that the approaches on the right were not possible. The plan was therefore changed and it was decided to force the ravine about 360067, and establish the bridgehead from the left. During the night, H Coy moved forward to the area 363067.

At first light on 2nd December, F and H Coys crossed the ravine to secure the high ground east of Treglio (3507). After advancing approximately 300 yards on the far bank, they were held up by heavy automatic and mortar fire, and were unable to get further forward. Throughout the day, all attempts to advance were held up despite assistance from tanks (from the rear bank firing across the ravine and from 3“ mortars and MMGs. Several determined enemy counter attacks were beaten off and the coys were successful in holding the ground already won. One disadvantage that seriously hampered the coys’ efforts was the fact that the supporting artillery was firing at maximum range and so accurate support was not available from them.

In the evening, news was received that a combined infantry and tank attack was to take place at first light along the road Lanciano (3203) – Treglio (3507) – San Vito (3611). F and H Coys were therefore withdrawn during the night to avoid them becoming involved in this attack. Patrols only being left across the ravine to keep contact and harass the enemy.

During the night 2/3 December, a ‘Chinese’ attack was made in the bridge area 368075 with 3“ mortars , MMGs etc. This caused considerable enemy fire. At dawn on 3 December in conjunction with the tank and infantry attack from Lanciano towards Treglio, G and E Coys crossed the ravine in the bridge area and made a bridgehead. F Coy followed leaving H Coy and Bttn HQ on the rear side of the ravine.

The Bttn was then disposed as follows:

G Coy – area 368076.

F Coy – area 372080.

E Coy – area 375083.

H Coy – area 370072.

Bttn HQ at 370073.

Here the Bttn remained till the afternoon while the bridge was being repaired. At 1500hrs, the Bttn was relieved by a Canadian Bttn and it then concentrated forward south of San Vito (3611) in the area 362097.

The orders were to move forward and establish one coy as early as possible during the night to the high ground to the west, about 380105. Using this company as a base to patrol with a second coy to the river Moro and gain information about the bridge 337017 and the crossings of the river north and south of it.  If possible, to establish the whole Bttn on the high ground during the night – a squadron of tanks to join the Bttn at first light on 4 December.

At 1900hrs, E Coy moved forward to establish themselves on the high ground and by 2200hrs reported themselves in position – though considerable enemy movement was heard. E Coy was ordered to be very aggressive and H Coy was ordered forward to contact E Coy and patrol to the river. By 0100hrs 4 December, H Coy was patrolling and reported enemy between 350105 and the river.

At 0100hrs, G Coy and a command post moved forward and by 0300hrs had joined E and H Coys and established themselves. There were a considerable number of enemy, who had remained undetected during the night in the area and at first light, the task of clearing them out began. At 0700hrs, the squadron of tanks arrived to assist.

At 0600hrs, F Coy and Bttn HQ were ordered forward. As the task of clearing the area went on, coys were established on the high ground overlooking the river as follows:

G Coy – area 337099.

H Coy – area 341113.

E Coy – area 347105.

Considerable trouble was experienced from the right flank, which was fairly strongly held and where the ground favoured the defence. During the afternoon, F Coy, assisted by tanks, cleared the area and was established in the area 344117. During the day, 3” mortars and MMGs were brought forward on mules as the diversion was unsuitable for vehicles.

The bridge, which was not blown when the first troops arrived, was demolished by the enemy about 1400hrs. The positions were under considerable mortar and artillery fire throughout the day but by evening, although very tired , the Bttn was firmly established overlooking and commanding the River Moro. E Coy had been moved up to the area 339017 and G Coy, on relief by two coys of 6 Innisks, had been withdrawn to the area 346105.

At nightfall on 4 December, the Bttn was therefore disposed as follows:

E Coy – area 339017.

H Coy – area 341113.

F Coy – area 347115.

G Coy – area 346105.

and Bttn HQ.

During the night, 4/5 December recce patrols were sent out to discover the depth and width of the river north and south of the bridge. The night was quiet.

On 5 December, orders were received that the Bttn would be relieved by a Canadian Bttn and the Bttn was to move back and take up a position in the area of the bridge 368075 – the positions it had held two days previously.

By 1930hrs, the relief was completed without incident and by midnight the Bttn was in its new area. Here, it remained for just over 24 hours and at 0800hrs began its move back to the rest area near to Campobasso.