Irish Brigade

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

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


E Company at Montenero

Report of Enemy Raid on 2 LIR positions on Calvario, 19 January 1944

During 18 January, the enemy switched his attention from shelling the former ‘F’ Coy and 4.2” mortar positions area 037471 and registered very accurately the forward platoon localities of both ‘E’ and ‘F’ Companies 032462. From this, it became apparent that our new positions had been discovered and the possibility of a raid at dawn on 19 January was considered likely. Orders to this effect were issued overnight by the OC (Officer Commanding) of the double company locality.

During the night 18/19 January, ‘F’, the right hand Coy, patrolled in strength down to the outskirts of Alfedena and out to the feature 1142 on the right flank, but it had nothing to report in all cases. On the left between midnight and dawn ‘E’ Coy had no less than 3 patrols over the area, in which it was known that the enemy layup. That these patrols failed to discover the enemy is hard to believe, unless the actual ground is seen under snow conditions. It is extremely thick and broken and even in daylight, it requires most careful detailed searching.

Dawn to 0830hrs, 19 January 1944.

The dawn stand to passed off uneventfully and at stand down, the visibility being excellent and their being a need to rest  and feed the troops, who had a full night’s work, day dispositions and routine were adopted.

The Raid.

Opening moves.

The first indication of any trouble afoot was the arrival of approximately 20 shells in the forward platoon areas. One of these shells caused a direct hit on 7 Platoon HQ, while the Platoon Commander was in the process of issuing orders to his section commanders. He alone of the party escaped injury and the loss of his section commanders at that stage must have added considerably to the enemy’s chances of success in that particular area. Coupled with the shelling of the forward position, the enemy dropped some along the mule track connecting the forward coy area with Montenero and had the good fortune to cut the Battalion linking the Company’s HQ to the Battalion HQ. This delayed the arrival at Battalion HQ of the news that anything more than shelling was under way in the forward area, and later threw an undue strain on the Royal Artillery OP lines.

The shelling of the forward platoons had put the men into their slit trenches and as soon as it had stopped, 7 and 9 Platoons of ‘E’ Coy were rushed at short range, each by a party of about 20 Germans who used Schmeissers, rifle and stick grenades and the bayonet.

9 Platoon was overrun and the whole platoon was either killed or captured. 7 Platoon was also overrun but in the subsequent mix up, the platoon commander and four others got away and rejoined the company.

While this was going on, the enemy was endeavouring to stop all other movement in the two company areas by fire from MG 34 positioned on either flank in the former ‘F’ Company area 037471 and on the closely wooded Calvario position. This fire made movement difficult in the ‘F’ Company area but failed to get at the’ E’ Company reserve platoon area. This platoon (No 8 under commander Lieutenant Bird) came forward within 10 minutes and joined the OC ‘E’ Company, Major Davies, in a counter attack on the 9 Platoon area. At this time, Major Davies was unaware that 7 Platoon had also been overrun and was counting on them to swing round from the right and cooperate in his attempt to cut off the retreat of the raiders.

Meanwhile both the VMG section and two detachments 3 “ mortars had gone into action and engaged enemy targets on the old ‘F’ Company area and on top of Calvario with success. The result of this fire into the present ’F’ Company area and enabled the platoons there to move into better positions from which to engage the enemy. It also allowed the Royal Artillery FOO (Forward Observation Officer) to get his W/T (wireless) set into action and call for DF (defensive fire) on the prearranged targets. The detachment of Kensingtons also fired on their DF targets but approximately 80% of their bombs failed to explode (This matter will be investigated further).

The counter attack by OC ‘E’ Company with his reserve platoon was successful: 9 and 7 areas were cleared and the enemy automatics on the top of Calvario were driven off with known casualties to the enemy of 6 killed and a prisoner, while our own, in this particular phase, was one NCO wounded.

The enemy then started to withdraw and were shelled by our own artillery. By 1015, the raid was over and by 1100 OC ‘E’ Company had effected reorganisation of the double company area.

Action taken in Montenero.

Information received at Battalion HQ throughout the whole raid from both infantry and Royal Artillery sources was extremely scanty and it was not until 0900hrs that it became apparent that the forward companies might need assistance.

The two companies remaining in Montenero were first of all placed at 15 minutes notice and then at instant readiness to move and an ‘O’ Group held. This entailed a complete alteration of previous plans, which included, amongst other things, the cancellation of the ‘G’ Company patrol programme on our northern flank. There was consequently some delay in getting two companies fully ready to move and it was not until 1030 that both companies were underway, clear of the village with their own orders issued and all details of the supporting fire plan worked out.

Had it been considered to dispatch only one company, these timings would have been considerably shortened.

From then on, both companies moved fast and well and were up and in position on the Calvario Banchette features by noon. A good climb in heavy unbroken snow.

While on the way up, information was received that the situation forward had been restored, but it was decided to continue with the plan in order to recce the wooden area between Calvario and Banchette. This recce provided ample evidence of the enemy using this area both for CP (command post) and laying up purposes.

At 1225 an ‘O’ Group was held in ‘E’ Company’s area and the positions then reorganised onto a basis of one company containing five platoons. This allowed two platoons being held in reserve and slightly shortened the extent of the perimeter.

Arrangements were then made for the evacuation of all casualties, then one prisoner, burial of the dead and for the subsequent withdrawal of the two companies brought from Montenero.

While this was in progress, the forward positions were again shelled and ‘H’ Company had an NCO platoon commander wounded.

Interrogation of the one PW (prisoner of war) has established the facts that the raid was planned on the very detailed information the enemy had succeeded in obtaining of our dispositions and habits. How much of this can be attributed to his own recces and how much to information from agents in Montenero is not yet clear, but there are several indications that there is at least one enemy agent herewith good means of intercommunication at his disposal.

The raiding force, itself, lay up within 50 yards of the 9 Platoon area from 0300hrs onwards in deep snow. They must have suffered badly from cold as they had now special snow equipment. They did have white camouflage suits.

The success of the raid was due entirely to its obtaining complete initial surprise. This points to laxness on the part of the sentries of the two forward platoons, to poor work on the part of the patrols, who visited the laying up area and to a certain extent to faulty realisation on the part of individuals as to what front line routine entails, although they had been fully explained and several rehearsals carried out.

The exact story of the 9 Platoon story is unlikely to become available as at present there are no survivors from that platoon. It was only 14 strong on 19 January. The direct hit on 7 Platoon’s HQ attributed considerably to their troubles. In the case of 9 Platoon, it is pointed out that owing to the platoon officer being away on a course, and the proper platoon sergeant having become a casualty earlier, the platoon was at that time under the charge of a Lance Sergeant.

Routine Orders of ‘E’ Company at Calvario.

Stand To will take place daily at 0600hrs to 0645hrs and 1700hrs to 1745hrs. At these times all troops will man their battle positions.

In Daytime, sections will have two men in battle positions and alert.

During Night time, sections will have 50% alert in battle positions.

At Mealtimes, sections will dispatch 50% to cookhouse. The remaining 50% will go on the return of the first 50%.


Report by OC ‘E’ Company on German Raid at Calvario on 19th January 1944.

A raiding party of about 50 Germans visited ‘E’ Company’s area this morning. The raid seems to have been carefully planned and was based on clear information in respect of the company and the area of ‘F’ Company on our right.

There had been indication of the raid in the careful shelling, which the enemy had carried out on the previous evening and immediately before his attack. He got the range on to the left forward platoon (030472) and onto the locality of 033465 very accurately. His previously shelling had all been north of the two companies and in the area 036470. From this, we concluded that he had spotted our positions. The shells that were put down last evening on the two positions mentioned appeared to be ranging shells because as soon as he had got down to the correct range, he fired no more. In consequence, a special instruction was issued to platoons

To try and spot the guns and

To be alert for a raid for which he might be ranging as a preliminary.

It was suggested that a raid might come at dawn the following day. There were no further indications of the event. The writer spent about half an hour with glasses in the OP at 030462 and, with a complete view from north west to south east, saw no sign of movement in the enemy direction.

The raid began at 0830hrs when on the hilltops occupied by 9 Platoon (031462) firing broke out. It was plainly MG 34 fire and I telephoned to the locality immediately and was informed by the platoon by the platoon that about 20 Germans were in their position. The strength of 9 Platoon was 13 men and commanded by a Lance Sergeant. In view of the information, I sent a runner to summon my platoon reserve (No 8 under Lieutenant Bird) from 033464. I awaited them at Company HQ and at the same time sent a runner to 7 Planner (Lieutenant Mosley)  with orders that the platoon would move across from its locality north and below 9 Platoon to take the  party in 9 Platoon area from that flank while I and 8 Platoon moved them from east.

8 Platoon came to me at Company HQ within 10 minutes and we moved up to the 9 Platoon locality. German MGs were firing on us from the artillery OP area (light point on south edge of platoon locality) and on going north to get a firing position against this gun, Corporal Blake was hit in the leg by a Schmeisser fired at short range. The relieving platoon accordingly had two posts to clear: one south of the feature and one north. At this stage, some soldiers of 7 Platoon were seen to move across the front followed by Germans. Before we saw that they were prisoners, the men of 8 Platoon shouted at the men of 7. This gave the Germans a warning and they took cover although a Bren burst got one of them.

I detailed Lieutenant Bird with one section to stalk the MG in the OP area and this he did.

I took one Bren and five men to stalk the Schmeisser and men escorting the prisoners. We shot three of these men and at this stage three white lights went up, which apparently was their order to withdraw. At this stage, Lieutenant Mosley got away and joined me. I returned to Company HQ to report to Battalion HQ and find out why they had not had defensive fire from the guns and 4.2” mortars.

I had sent a runner from the hilltops asking for DF6 and heavy mortar defensive fire. My CSM had contacted the 3”mortars and they fired a defensive fire I had given them previously. It may have down damage as it was across the German line of withdrawal.

They also fired to the left of the hilltops from whence fire came which was pinning ‘F’ Company down.

I believe this shelling removed the MMG, which Lieutenant Bird drove away. He followed this party down into the valley of the Alfadena – Pizzone road losing one man killed by MG fire.

7 Platoon (Lieutenant Mosley) had been ordered to attack towards the hilltops. Before the order reached them, they were all captured. The platoon commander was holding an ‘O’ Group when a shell (probably a 105mm) struck the tent wounding the platoon sergeant and two section commanders. Mosley rushed out and found 25-30 Germans in his locality and they were collecting arms from his men.

With his men, he was led up to the hilltop eventually coming into view of the relieving platoon (No 8). Lieutenant Mosley and four of his men broke loose. They reported that whilst sheltering in their slit trenches during the preliminary bombardment, the Germans had rushed them. They used rifles grenades and stick grenades plentifully.

Vickers fire opened up and I believe did some execution as the enemy moved back across the more exposed areas. His general direction of withdrawal seemed to be towards Barrea rather than Pizzone. Certainly not Scontrone.

Artillery fire eventually came down on the river.

4.2” mortars too fired their defensive tasks but too many shells did not explode.

‘F’ Company on our right were not attacked but were well held by carefully sited MGs both on Calvario and behind them from their old company locality.

A short artillery concentration preceded the whole attack, but this was not so extraordinary as to be regarded other than his normal activity in the past few days.

Casualties:

                                              Killed                     Wounded             Prisoners

‘E’ Company                               2                                    3                            19

‘F’ Company                               3                                    9                               –

Artillery                                        1                                         –                           –

4.2” Mortars                               –                                        2                            –

German – 6 killed, 1 wounded, 1 prisoner.

Probably more wounded but made away.

Germans used machine guns (MG 34), a high proportion of Schmeissers, stick grenades, rifle grenades. Then bayonets were fixed and they came in on the platoons with fixed bayonets.

German troops wore soft hats and snow suits.

They were extremely fit and were far better physically than most German troops. They were confident and their morale high. At the same time, their withdrawal was clumsy and poorly executed.

It seems that to carry out this raid, the Germans positioned three or four MGs around this company localities and under their cover and under cover of artillery, moved simultaneously two groups of about twenty on the two forward platoons taking them by surprise and outnumbered them slightly. To get into the perimeter from which he assaulted, he must have moved into the area south of Calvario by night and lain up until 0830hrs, although it is disappointing to come to this conclusion because three patrols (each of one section) swept these areas during the night for the purpose for finding any such troops lying up. The only odd incident during the night was that a dog was heard barking.

The wounded prisoner said he belonged to the 76 Regiment of a Mountain Division.

Signed DHM Davies,

OC ‘E’ Company,

19/1/44.