The Faughs at Monte Spaduro


An account of the battle period at Monte Spaduro on 19th/20th October 1944 was published in the Royal Irish Fusiliers’ Regimental Journal, ‘Faugh a Ballagh’ in 1945.

It was written by the Faughs’ Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel John Horsfall, who would update this contemporary version in his marvellous memoir, ‘Fling Our Banner To The Wind’ to include relevant contextual details but his original account still remains an excellent visceral first hand account of that dreadfully difficult time for the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers and we reproduce it below.


“The briefing for the battle we did by stages from our OP during the afternoon of the 19th. The rough plot was that A Company should seize ridge 387 by an attack from the north flank, going at the ridge end on and, following it, B Company should capture Monte Spaduro, leaving ‘A’ on their right rear clearing up Pt 387. C Company was to come up on B Company’s left on Spaduro after its capture. The approaches in each case ruled out any question of committing more than a Company in each assault. Anyhow, we only had three available Companies, D Company, still being engaged in helping our support weapons onto Pt 416 to support the attack and, on completion of that task, to become the local reserve. Major Ian Lawrie, Royal Artillery, had got a considerable number of guns laid on, putting down concentrations on all known and likely Hun localities for the first two hours of the attack. It was unlikely that S Company would be ready to help before first light, not being able to get into position before darkness fell. Shortly before dark, the opposition quietened down and food was got up to both forward Companies and the stage was set for one of the most tragic and bloody battles we have ever fought. Zero was at 9pm.

D Company was being commanded by Pat Howard as Jimmy Clarke went down with a spell of fever at Castel del Rio and our MO, Eric Rawlings, was also suffering from the aftermath of malaria and, in his place, Jimmy Miller, who very rapidly became one of the boys. Another serious loss was Sergeant Lee of the Mortar Platoon, who stopped a shell splinter in the morning.

At dusk, TAC HQ moved into the buildings about Pt 401 and, at the same time, C Company wheeled in a prisoner – a shrimp of a man but quite willing to talk. During the forming up, we suffered a very sad loss in CSM Crowley MM of B Company, who was mortally wounded by a shell – a devoted servant of the Regiment.

A Company set off into the darkness at 845pm, closely followed by ‘B’, and at 9pm, the artillery concentrations began on the Pt 362-387 ridge. By 10pm, A Company had got a foothold on the ridge, undetected owing to their flank approach. Once there, they swept along, rapidly firing Brens and tommy guns from the hip. Such opposition as there was the crests was quickly overcome and a number of Germans surrendered and came out of their trenches when A Company shouted at them in German. Others refused to give in and were shot in their weapon pits. By midnight, A Company were consolidating and, under Colin Gunner, 12 prisoners were sent back with a small escort. There was a considerable amount of German movement all around the lower slopes on either side of the ridge and the garrison of Spinello became active about this time and started shooting A Company up from behind. On his way back, Colin was badly shot up by a force of Germans, who were already across the original axis of approach of A Company. Colin and the POWs were just about to descend the cud at the end of the ridge when this happened. Two of the prisoners had the misfortune to fall down the cliff in their anxiety to take cover and were killed. It took Colin several hours of oiling his way through the Boche posts to get back.

B Company had pushed on through ‘A’ as soon as the latter was on the end of Pt 362 and had no trouble for about 600 yards when they came to a group of buildings which was full of Huns, Lieutenant Tyler and his Platoon became involved in a close range gun fight, in which a number of Germans were killed, several prisoners taken and an ammunition dump set on fire by our tracer. Shortly after this, they ran into a cliff-sided wadi about 400 yards in front of Spaduro. This proved to be impassable and there were a lot of Boches the far side, firing Verey lights etc. Here, they stopped for an hour while Wally Tyler took a small patrol east to look for a crossing. This he eventually found but got involved in a battle with some Huns on the way back, in which one of our lads was hit as well as one or two Germans. By 330am, the Company had reached the crossing place and spent nearly an hour getting across. Dick Jefferies then asked if he was to continue to Spaduro bearing in mind the bare hour of darkness left. The CO told him to carry on and B Company then formed up again and continued towards the summit.  On the way up, they ran into more Boches positioned around a haystack, who were overcome after a short fight. Some were killed and more were taken prisoner. At 515am, Dick announced that he was on the objective. Sergeant Jones pushed on over the top and started to dig in on the forward slopes, while a patrol from his Platoon swept the immediate area. This brought in a few more prisoners.

By 545, it was obvious to us all that both A and B Companies were in for some pretty heavy counter attack as one machine gun after another began to open up on them from either flank and in front. It was obvious that the Boches were in considerable strength too. They attacked both Companies simultaneously at 6am. DF fire was brought down but it failed to halt either attack as the Huns were inside our fire by the time it arrived and it didn’t help any – both Companies screaming for their DFs at the same time. Ian had some difficult moments then. Dick vainly tried to bring the DFs in closer but reception became bad at that time and we failed to decipher his message.

At this time, we can follow the fortunes of Tony Morris and C Company. As soon as Dick Jefferies had opened the way to Spaduro, we sent Tony up to help him secure the objective, trusting in its capture by the time Tony arrived. They made direct for Pt 387, intending to pass through A Company and, by 130pm, had reached the bottom of the wadi below ‘A’. Thus, they were unable to ascend and moved east, where the slope was less steep. Here, they came on the path from Spinello. They were half way up when they saw figures up and Fusilier Bowden, who was the head of C Company, went up to them, asking if they were A Company. Getting no answer he went close and one of them tried to brain him with a stick grenade. This attempt was unsuccessful so Bowden fired a whole magazine from his tommy gun in which C Company being lower down was at a great disadvantage and grenades came thick and fast. There was an hour of chaos and confusion, which made it evident that there was no possibility of C Company reaching Spaduro in the dark. By this time, the Spaduro garrison was going full blast too. C Company were then ordered to hold firm and help A Company, if they could. When daylight came, unfortunately, they were far too close to Spinello and too low down to be able to do so.

Major Maurice Crehan, Irish Fusiliers of Canada attached to the Royal Irish Fusiliers

The German assault on A Company was successful after half an hour’s bitter fighting at point blank range. They were shot up on all sides by MGs and eventually some German bombers got on to the top and began raining bombs down on our chaps on the reverse slopes; finally, the survivors were rushed by a force about a Company strong. They sold themselves dearly and, at a later date, Major Maurice Crehan, Sergeant Elliott and eight others were found dead beside their weapons and fifteen to twenty dead Germans in the immediate vicinity. German prisoners later confirmed that forty of our boys were taken prisoner, having run out of ammunition.

While this battle was going on, B Company was putting up a very gallant resistance and had repelled the first attack, though Sergeant Jones and 12 Platoon on the forward slopes had been practically wiped out. Jerry Pierce and his boys on the right of the crest had been assaulted by about fifty Huns, who were caught in enfilade as they came over the top and driven back with heavy loss. Others came over the left of the crest and attacked the Company HQ and Wally Tyler’s Platoon. A number of these were shot also. It appears that Dick Jefferies shot two with his revolver. A grenade fight then started on the tops, which lasted about an hour, by which time, B Company had practically finished their ammunition.

Corporal Isaacs did excellent work with his 2 inch mortar and knocked out an MG post. During this stage, B Company had fourteen prisoners and a CSM in the gully below Spaduro and some bombs landed amongst them, killing ten, which saved a lot of trouble. At 730am, the final assault took place. Dick told us this over the wireless and the last message we passed to him was, “Wait for the whites of their eyes.” Dick acknowledged the message and said to Wally, “I’m damned if I am going to give into these buggers.” After another quarter of an hour, the Germans were all over the place, the assault being made by about a Company supported by crowds of others all round with grenades and MGs.

Major Dick Jefferies captured at Spaduro

As the day cleared, we saw from an OP the German SBs at work and there were a lot of grey figures on Spaduro. They worked until 1pm removing dead and wounded and we didn’t fire on them, except that Ian put down an uncle on the back slopes of Spaduro.

About twenty survivors from each Company got back during the day, many having had hair-raising adventures. Jerry Pierce got back with the Hun CSM after dodging German posts all day and finally reached the other infantry at Ripiano. Wally and nine others got in the next night after being in the midst of Huns and shot up both sides for thirty six hours. Sergeant Donkin got back from A Company. Some of the final scenes saw many acts of gallantry.

Lance Corporal Borrett, who was hit in the stomach, crawled back two miles to our HQ through the enemy lines. The effect, unhappily, was too much for him and, although very cheery when brought in, he died later from exhaustion. There was the unknown hero of B Company, who was seen throwing back stick grenades at Huns and Sergeant Shannon, who took his boys in a bayonet charge when all was lost.

By 7am, the Mortar Platoon and the Vickers were in action off Pt 416 and, as the crisis approached, D Company was moved behind 416 to act as an emergency counter attack force. By the time they arrived, however, any such role was out of the question and we then found ourselves being shot up by the Boche in strength on Salata Ridge in our right rear. This had been the night’s objective for the 36th Brigade so we were considerably surprised to find it held by the enemy. D Company had several casualties, including four killed and was pinned down. The Mortars were behind, too. C Company was equally pinned down on the lower ridge below Spinella and 387. Happily, we had two tanks on Gesso, who could see Spinello, so we got them engaging that with their 75s. This achieved very rapid results. Some of the garrison bolted and were shot down by the Vickers Platoon from 416. Fusilier Carter, who was bang on the top, did notable work here.

By midday, we evacuated C Company under smoke. A hazardous operation and the smoke was not very effective. We heaved a sigh of relief when they eventually appeared over the ridge safely. D Company, we got out about the same time too. The rest of the day we were heavily shelled and D Company had more serious casualties – Sergeant Murphy and Corporal Gallagher were killed, lamented losses for they had served the Regiment faithfully through all our battles. CSM Bartlett was also badly wounded. During the afternoon, Battalion HQ had five direct hits from heavy shells. Corporal Strainger and his cooks did remarkable work and did more to keep us in the line than any other factor.

At dusk, R Group arrived with further designs on Spaduro and, at 9pm, the rest of the Irish Brigade concentrated in the area. Luckily, it was fairly peaceful during the period of their move in. C Company sent a patrol to Spaduro at dusk but were unable to get into the place.

At midnight, on the 20th, the London Irish Rifles attacked the 387 ridge but, after fighting all night, were unable to make progress owing to the Spinello bottle neck. The garrison of the latter was certainly a tough lot and no direct approach to the high feature was possible with this little bunch sitting on our flank. All the next day, our Mortars and Vickers shot up the Boche on the 387 ridge and had excellent targets as all the forward positions could be seen plainly. The Vickers Platoon shot down three, who bolted from one post at midday and several others were knocked out. During the day, Pedro achieved the remarkable feat of manhandling two of his six pounders into action on Gesso and, having dug them in, fired over 60 rounds of AP and HE into Spinello. Needless to say, they drew an immense amount of fire back on themselves, happily without harm. Prisoners later testified to the effect of their fire.

CSM Robbie Robinson

D Company, now reduced by casualties, was evacuated at dusk and, in the middle of the night, Battalion HQ was ordered back, too, leaving ‘C’ and ‘S’ under the command of another Battalion. S Company did particularly fine work the next day in support of the London Irish Rifles. During the battle, they fired 93,000 rounds from the Vickers and 1,400 mortar bombs and several hundred shells from Pedro Pattison’s guns, so they can’t complain they were not used. Both C and S Companies re-joined us the next night, Sunday the 22nd.

Re-grouping was then the next problem. R Company was on the way to join us and there was no question of forming four Companies again. B Company was reconstituted out of the survivors of A and B Companies and reinforcements. Tony Morris took over command with Colin Gunner, Wally Tyler, Jerry Pierce and Ken Hanssen as Subalterns. Davidson became CSM and McKessick CQMS, while Jack Phelan was 2 i/c, a very representative gathering of two very gallant Companies. Ray Titterton took over D Company and Pretorius took Dickey Doyle’s place. D Company was unchanged as Jimmy had arrived back. Bert Parish joined them as a Subaltern and Morton went as CSM. Johnny Beamish also went to C Company as a Subaltern. CSM Napier was posted to HQ Company. The only other event was the promotion of Sergeant Robinson of D Company to CSM – a happy occasion as no one has done more for the Regiment than Robinson, who has been in practically every battle since our landings in Tunisia.



 

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