6 INNISKILLING’S ATTACK ON TWO TREE HILL, 13 JANUARY, 1943.
Report and Story of Battle, written by Lt-Col Allen.
Following were objectives:
First – Two Tree Hill (679090).
Second – Three Tree Hill (678097).
Third – Hen House Hill (687095).
PLAN IN OUTLINE.
To take three objectives in three phases, phase 1 Two Tree Hill, the approach in darkness from 1700 yds then the onward advance with a timed artillery programme. Phase 2 and 3 were to be planned from Two Tree Hill with artillery fire from observation.
Coys to move as follows: C Coy right forward, D Coy left forward, A Coy right rear in reserve, B Coy, left rear in reserve but with ultimate objective Three Tree Hill when ordered. Bttn HQ to move between C and A Coys along track, which leads from rd junction 648074 to the east. A squadron of tanks was in reserve either to assist onto objectives or to exploit.
At Lone Bush, the leading Coys stopped to await artillery fire. This was 700yds from where fire was to come down. This was part of plan as it was accepted that artillery fire might fall short, owing to unregistered and in darkness. The artillery fire actually did fall short, thus casing the plan to fall behind the timed programme.
It was at this stage that the influence of the mud, which made the going terribly slow, began to be felt. By the time it was light, C and D Coys were seen to be advancing up to Becher’s Brook. If things had gone according to plan, they should have been advancing out of the Brook and up the gully at this time but mud stopped it.
At the same time as C Coy were seen to be advancing, D Coy became definitely held up from machine guns, which were coming from both their flanks. The two forward platoons were pinned to the ground. Without stopping their advance, A Coy were immediately ordered to go forward on the right following C Coy, where it seemed that success might be possible. About half an hour after this, the report came from C Coy saying that they were held up, only fifteen men left, all officers out of action and that they wanted ammunition. Later from two wounded officers, who had been brought back from C Coy, it was ascertained that success on this flank might have been possible if A Coy had arrived earlier. A Coy also had the misfortune of having their two platoon commanders put out of action.
A brief plan was made then to try to get D Coy forward and up the face of Two Tree Hill. The plan was to defilade right by smoke and shell, the left in the vicinity of the trees in the lower slope of Three Tree Hill and the ruins in the bottom of Becher’s Brook from where machine gun fire was coming. This was done and the Coy attempted to advance, but the other unlocated machine guns opened up and D Coy could not get forward.
B Coy had stopped on the Whog Hill, while the actions outlined above were in progress.
A recce was carried out to the left from the most forward point of Green Top Hill and a plan was made to push B Coy round the left into the northern part of Becher’s Brook, come up behind the ruins then take Two Tree Hill on its left hand slopes and rear. This plan was not put into action as it became apparent that the Coys on the right had suffered severe losses, were out of ammunition, and thus were being pushed back. So B Coy was then moved to the right onto the top of One Tree Hill, from where it could attack or cover the withdrawal of the other two Coys, depending on how the situation clarified. A plan was immediately made on top of the hill with the CO of the 12 RHA. Targets were registered; these included many out on the plain on the southern flank.
Between 1100 and 1200hrs, it became apparent that the positions gained by C and A Coys on Two Tree Hill were untenable and a withdrawal commenced to One Tree Hill. Remains of D Coy and C and A Coys were concentrated and reorganised on One Tree Hill. B Coy covered this rearrangement.
Between 1200 and 1300hrs, Coys were withdrawn to the position around the road and track junction 648074. During the withdrawal, the 17/21 Lancers covered the troops out. About half way through, artillery fire came down on the tanks putting one out of action and causing casualties to ten men of A and C Coys. The line of withdrawal was to the north of Plough Top Hill but as a result of the enemy shell fire it was shifted to the south and B Coy was able to get back unharmed. The enemy did not follow up the withdrawal.
The withdrawal was marked by orderliness and a keen sense of duty by all ranks to get every man wounded or dead back. By 1530hrs, the withdrawal was completed.
Bttn HQ, whose mobility depended on Carriers, was track bound throughout the action. The 2.i.c. and Adjutant took situation reports and passed information back on the rear link. The command side of Bttn HQ consisted of the CO, the Intelligence Sergeant, and the odd runner, all of whom ploughed through the mud from flank to flank. This made the operative machinery of command slow and cumbersome.
The Story of C Company.
C Coy reached the southern slopes of Two Tree Hill under the cover of artillery fire, but they were stopped by machine guns, the Coy Commander with a shot in the leg being one of the first casualties. The leading platoon, however, pushed on and reached within twenty or thirty yards of the two trees on the top of the hill. There they were, finally pinned by machined guns firing from the top and the south east. The second platoon did not get so far, they having been first fired on from Red Roof Farm, later were engaged from the top of a re-entrant, which runs into the hill from its southern face. By this time, all officers, including the F.O.O. from the 12 RHA, had become casualties. The number of casualties was increased when mortar fire opened on a collecting centre formed by L/Cpl Herbert in a depression somewhere on the hill. Here it is believed the artillery officer was finally lost. Up to as late as 0600hrs on 14 Jan ’43 casualties from this Company trickled in.
The Story of A Company.
A Coy, in their attempt to push on after C Coy, first came under fire from Red Roof Farm. There were only two platoons, very weak in numbers, and although both platoons managed to get to Two Tree Hill, they were unable to achieve any success. The Coy Commander, however, later managed to assist greatly in the withdrawal and getting the wounded back. The evacuation of the wounded was marked by the gallantry of Cpl Sills, a Stretcher Bearer, attached to A Coy, who as well as getting a Coy and some of C Coy, also cleared back the wounded from the crews of two Grant tanks, which had been sent round to assist on the right flank. Two Grant tanks out of three were knocked off in the vicinity of Red Roof Farm from a gun in the plain.
The Story of D Company.
D Coy followed up the artillery fire on the left flank, but on reaching the flat ground to the west of Becher’s Brook, came under machine gun fire from both flanks. Later, when the smoke screen was put down, Lieut Hodgson, with some of his platoon, managed to get up on the western face of Two Tree Hill to within shouting distance. He later retired to One Tree Hill. The remainder of this Coy was withdrawn eventually to some excavations just west of Becher’s Brook, where Capt Rowlette collected them and took them round to One Tree Hill. A few came back on the northern side of Green Top Hill, where Capt Little of the Carrier Platoon took them in charge.
The following deserve special mention:
Lieut M Hodgson – for reaching the objective in spite of MG fire.
Cpl Sills – for his organisation and bravery in evacuating the wounded.
Fusilier Hadden – for sticking to a wounded man, although wounded himself, and eventually him back.
Fusilier Love – for getting Lieut George, to whom he was batman, back over two miles.
Fusilier Slater/Fusilier Dilkes – for maintaining fire with their 2 inch mortar when lying in the open under enemy MG fire.
Major SJ Bunch – for leading his Coy on and eventually organising the evacuation of wounded.
Capt A Ferriss – for continuing to lead his Coy although wounded.
It is considered that the enemy did not expect the attack, yet were not surprised. They held the position by fire and not numbers. All their positions were well sited and every advantage was taken of defilade and the greatest results were obtained from enfilade fire. Their fire discipline was high.
The officers of the Bttn show themselves capable of leading. The men, in spite of reverses, casualties and the hard going in the mud, had the spirit to attack again after the withdrawal. The position attacked was a strong one in addition to being extremely capably defended. It was within this that the strength of the enemy lay, but the mud was a heavy handicap against the Bttn.