Irish Brigade

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

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


2 LIR – November 1944 to February 1945

On coming out of the line the battalion had to reduce to three companies and bade temporary farewell to F Company, which had lost all its officers and was low in strength.  A cadre of seven and a battle patrol of ex-F Company personnel under Lieutenant Montgomerie, M.C., served to maintain the F Company tradition.

The battalion returned to the Spaduro area, doing tours of twelve days in and six days out of the line.  The rains set in with an intensity that threatened to wash both friend and foe from the slippery, crumbling sides of the mountains into the swollen torrents below.  Further operations were off until an improvement in the weather.  During October eight inches of rain fell, and in November there were a further nine inches.  The administrative side of the battalion worked as it never had before.  When the weather was bad, either mud or snow, it took six hours to get from the forward areas to B Echelon, about fifteen miles away at Firenzuola.  Supplies were conveyed on mules, and some idea of the mud can be gauged from the fact that along one mule track could be seen the heads of many dead mules standing up in the mud where they had stuck, sunk, and been shot.

In mid-November the battalion moved north of the Sillaro River to hold sectors on the southern slopes of Monte Grande, part of the very last ridge overlooking the Po Plains.  Their adversaries were the 1st Parachute Division, one of the best left in the German Army, and whom they had met before in Sicily and at Cassino.

No major incident disturbed the normal routine of shells, mortar bombs, and patrols.  The battle patrol of F Company men, under Lieutenant Montgomerie, carried out a – highly successful raid in daylight on a farm occupied by a platoon of the enemy.  Four Germans were killed and the rest put to flight. Reconnaissance and planning for this raid took almost a week, but it was accomplished without a casualty, and Lieutenant Montgomerie received a Bar to his M.C.  On another occasion Lance-Corporal Faizey distinguished himself by capturing a patrol of four Germans who tried to pass themselves off as Canadians.

The team of officers which led the 2nd Battalion through that undistinguished but hard winter were Lieut.-Colonel Bredin, D.S.O., M.C., Major G. Fitzgerald (E Company), Major Ted Griffith (G Company), assisted by Lieutenant Gartside.  Major Craig and later Major J. D. Lofting led H Company, the mortar platoon was under Lieutenant Ken Daly, and the medium machine-guns were under the command of Lieutenant Neale.  Major G. G. Hall commanded the Support Company, Captain R. G. Cockburn Headquarters Company, Captain G. E. Cole was Adjutant, and Lieutenant D. Aitkenhead was still the very able and energetic Quartermaster.  The transport section was led by Captain Ivan Yates; Lieutenant John Barker was in charge of the pioneers, and Lieutenant Ken Levatt was Signals Officer.  Lieutenant F.  Lyness, the Intelligence Officer, took up a post as an instructor at the Central Mediterranean Training Centre, Benevento.

Lieut.-Colonel Bredin left the battalion temporarily to act as G.S.O.1 at 78th Divisional Headquarters, and Lieut.-Colonel J. D. Stewart, formerly Second-in-Command of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, took over.  Lieut.-Colonel Bredin returned six weeks later, and Lieut.-Colonel Stewart became Second-in-Command.  Major Mervyn Davies came back from hospital to command E Company, with Captain F. Cave as his Second-in-Command.

At the end of January the battalion had a very acceptable rest in the Florence neighbourhood, after which they moved with the rest of the 78th Division over the mountains to the plains of the River Po at Forli.  F Company was re-formed under Major Fitzgerald and Captain Desmond Fay before the battalion went into the line once more at the beginning of March.

As spring came, the battalion found that on the plains it had come into a new kind of warfare, a war of tunnelling, sniping, and periscopes, but with the luxuries of dry roads, houses, and good weather.  The surprisingly dry spring was a good omen for the decisive battles to come, and the good fortune was deserved by the veterans of the Eighth Army who had had two grim winters in Italy.