The Skins in Sicily – Centuripe

At 0400hrs on 2nd August, a message was received from the Commanding Officer by D/R that the battalion was to move. The Commanding Officer arrived back almost at the same time.

The Irish Brigade was to advance to Centuripe, which was believed to have been captured during the night, and to make a bridgehead across the road to the north of it. Centuripe is a fair sized town, perched right at the top of a steep hill 2000 feet high. A veritable fortress of a place, the hill shaped like an E tumbled over with the prongs towards us. The only road to the west of Etna zig zagged its way up through the town and it was therefore vital to future operations to capture the place as soon as possible

Soon after first light, the battalion less S Company started to advance by tracks to Centuripe, an advance of 3000 yards, with a climb of 2000 feet. The tracks were too bad even for mules so there was nothing for it but to hump everything we could carry – 22 wireless set, spare batteries, ammunition and all platoon weapons… like supporting weapons, tools to dig in with and water had to be left behind. Each man carried a tin of bully and a packet of biscuits rolled up in his gas cape. Small packs were not taken owing to the heat.

The Faughs were advancing parallel to us, up the main road on our left. The battalion wound its way in single file, 5 yards between each man, round the tracks with C Company leading followed by Battalion HQ, then the other rifle companies with the Company Commanders at Battalion HQ.

At about 0845hrs, C Company commanded by Major Savage came under mortar and rifle fire from the left flank and took up a position on Point 640, where they were also fired at from the ridge on the south east of the town. Point 640 was the last crests before Centuripe itself, about 500 yards away.

So it was painfully clear that the night attack on Centuripe had failed. No detailed brigade plan had been laid on for this eventuality, but we had been warned that it was a possibility. But there we were and there was nothing to do but to get on with the job.

Battalion HQ was established immediately behind C Company and the remaining companies and the RAP closed up under cover, while recces were carried out. Immediately in front of C Company was Point 708, which dominated our position and the following plan was adopted. D Company commanded by Captain Duddington followed by B Company commanded by Major Bayley moved to the ridge on our right flank, about 1200 yards away to seize the position at the top of the ridge called Point 664. This ground was vital to the enemy defence. Opposition from here proved to be very strong and included a flak weapon; consequently our progress was held up at a distance of about 400 yards from the objective.

The heat had now become intense and on account of this and the shortage of water, and the steepness of the mountain, it was decided to postpone any further attack until the relative cool of the afternoon.

(NA 5388) Men of the 6th Inniskillings, 38th Irish Brigade, searching houses during mopping up operations in Centuripe, August 1943. Copyright: © IWM.


About 1600hrs, D Company was fired at by a unit of another brigade, who were attacking a feature to their right rear. Contact was eventually established but they were again fired on later in the day, and this naturally retarded their proposed attack.

Meanwhile, fire on C Company died down on both flanks and the spur in front of them showed no sign of occupation. It was a desperate looking venture in view of the ground and the obvious intention of the enemy to hold the town.  But a plan was concocted to get into Centuripe by the front door, so to speak, since both the side doors (the spur that B and D Companies were on the right, and the spur that the Faughs were on to the left) were firmly barred.

Consequently at about 1630hrs, Battalion HQ moved up to Point 640, and C Company with artillery support moved forward, scaled a 100 foot cliff to Point 718 and succeeded in gaining a foothold in the town. A Company followed but owing to an unfortunate mishap, they were without artillery support and were fired on from both flanks. Major Crocker, however, reorganised his company and they passed through C Company into the town. Here, they soon encountered strong enemy resistance including a Mark III tank. House to house fighting at close quarters ensued, during which Major Crocker and Lieutenant Morrow were wounded from which the latter died. Major Crocker continued to lead his company and later established it in the main square. C Company was then ordered to move to the right and occupy Pont 709, which controlled the ridge to the east of the town. This was done but the enemy somehow got between A and C Companies and the situation became confused.

At 1730hrs, meanwhile, D Company supported by B Company, started their attack on the farm at Point 664. Over frightful country consisting of stone faced terraces, and in the face of heavy fire, Lieut McClinton’s platoon succeeded in gaining the objective, but was driven off almost immediately by a well organised counter attack. The ground was really impassable by day covered by accurate fire at short range and it was decided to wait until dark.

A further attack was launched by B Company after dark, but it was found the enemy had withdrawn.

Lieutenant Ferris of D Company and Lieutenant Harper of B Company were wounded during this attack.

While our attack was going on, the Faughs and 2 LIR with heavy artillery support were clearing the ridge on our left flank and joined up with us in the town in the morning.

Battalion HQ spent a most unpleasant night on Point 708 where a smouldering Bosche gave off most noxious fumes.

The town was reported clear of the enemy at 0330hrs. D Company, who had been ordered to work along the ridge after the occupation of Point 664, found it clear of the enemy and made contact with C Company on Point 709.

At 0630hrs on 3rd August, the Battalion HQ moved into the town and B Company also came in from the east. It had not been a pleasant Bank Holiday.

The road being open, rations and S Company were brought up.  The battalion had a breakfast they had earned with plenty of vino gratefully supplied by the civilians who, although their houses had been reduced to rubble, greeted us with open arms.

The casualties for this hazardous achievement were remarkably light – 8 ORs killed, 4 officers and 36 ORs wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Grazebrook was awarded the DSO for his leading of the battalion that day. Major Crocker and Lieutenant Hewitt of A Company and Lieutenant McClinton of D Company were awarded the MC, and L/Cpl Apling of D Company was awarded the MM for the parts they played.

When the Army Commander, General Montgomery was shown what the battalion had accomplished, he was reputed to have said “Impossible. No one else in the Army would have done it. The Divisional Commander personally congratulated the battalion on its excellent performance and went so far as that 6 Innisks had done better than any battalion in 78 Division.