Simeto river crossing.
After the Salso crossing, the Irish Brigade again rapidly moved forward and the afternoon of 5th August saw them attacking across the Simeto river, where the far bank was heavily defended. In fact, that single day saw the highest number of deaths for the brigade throughout all their campaigns in Tunisia and Italy.
Despite such stubborn defensive actions, the bridgehead was secured soon after nightfall.
Nelson Russell recalled: “Plans for the crossing of the Simeto had been made at the same time as the plan for the crossing of the Salso…. All that was now necessary was a close recce and coordinating the information gained by the two battalions in contact with the enemy.
Although the issue was never really in doubt, and the action concluded with one third of our infantry in hand, it was slow, hard, bitter fighting.
The Palace area near the Simeto river.
Enemy MG posts and snipers were hidden in caves (the whole northern cliff face was afterwards discovered to be honeycombed with caves) and each one had to be tracked down and eliminated. The Casino and Palace, both strongly built stone houses, were strong points, and every house between the river and the Y Junction had its quota of snipers.
The Casino and the Palace were the last to fall, but were finally liquidated at dusk after bombardment by the A/Tk guns of the Royal Irish Fusiliers from the right, and a PIAT of the LIR from the left. Not many prisoners were taken in the operation, but a wounded sergeant major of the Herman Goering Division, who was taken in the Casino, described his afternoon as being ‘unpleasant.
By 2100hrs, the bridgehead was secure, with the Royal Irish Fusiliers on the right, the London Irish Rifles on the left, and the Inniskillings on the southern bank between the river and the railway station.”
The area close to where John McNally fought in August 1943.
During our recent visit, we were able to walk the ground that Lieutenant John McNally crossed on the afternoon of 5th August and for his actions that day he was awarded the Military Cross (MC). It was a most moving occasion for us all to accompany Duncan McNally as he retraced his father’s movements on that day.
Lieutenant McNally’s MC citation was written by his commanding officer Lt Colonel Beauchamp Butler:
“On 5 Aug 43 on the river SIMETO this Officer was commanding a Platoon of A Coy. When the two leading Coys of his Battalion had been held up whilst crossing the river this Officer was ordered to take his Platoon further round to the right flank and get up on the cliff edge beyond the enemy position.
In spite of much enemy MG fire and sniping from the rocks, crevices and houses on the opposite side of the river, Lt McNally managed to seize the high ground and establish a bridgehead there, thus enabling the remainder of his Coy to get across and enlarge the bridgehead.
This action led to the crumbling of the whole enemy position.
Lt McNally’s fine leadership, initiative and disregard of danger were a magnificent example to his men.”
Duncan McNally and Edmund O’Sullivan find wartime debris.
CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan joined up with E Company after the Simeto crossing but he now faced a new peril:
“I rejoined the company at the River Salso for the advance to the River Simeto where there was heavy resistance to the crossing. After this was cleared, E Company occupied the village of Carcaci. I was allocated a large room in a house as a cookhouse. I observed that its walls were black. As I approached, the walls moved. They were a mass of flies and mosquitoes. Both had painful bites and alarming consequences.”
View from Centuripe towards the Simeto with Adrano in the distance.