Hill 255/San Giovanni

May 26th to May 31st 1944.

  San Giovanni.  

From San Giovanni towards Ceprano.

Following their rest period at Fiore, 2/LIR’s next objective was Ripi, about 15 miles to the north-west. On 26th May 1944, 2/LIR travelled by truck along Route 6 north through Aquino, past Roccasecca birthplace of Thomas Aquinas, around Monte Grande and Monte Piccolo where the Guards Brigade were still engaged in heavy fighting, and turned left at Arce towards the Liri crossing at Ceprano where they stayed in a harbouring area close to the river. Ahead was impassable country for any armoured support and 2/LIR was ordered to take a cross country route towards Ripi. To get back onto the road, they were then ordered to attack Hill 255 with the support of artillery from the 17th Regiment.

The attack by E Company, still led by Major Mervyn Davies, went in at midnight and overran the German positions on Hill 255 without suffering any casualties.

John Horsfall recalls the build up to the attack:

“Mervyn’s specific task was to reach and seize Hill 255 – a prominent lump of a feature which dominated the countryside for miles around and lying as it did, on the road to Ripi, was a tactical feature of the highest importance.” Mervyn Davies then goes on to describe the assault itself:“In due course, I was presented with a beautiful fire plan for a 20 minute barrage at about midnight. Unfortunately, those details reached us so late that the only orders effectively given to the platoon commanders were ‘Charge for the place where you see the shells landing near’….The Germans ran as we arrived.”

After the action at Hill 255, John Horsfall describes the fact that:

“Ivan Yates (the MTO officer) arrived too with a number of jeeps and breakfast. He came in having used the Via Casalina west of Ceprano and according to my map reading his route took him well behind the enemy forward positions before he reached us.”

All 2/LIR colour sergeants then signed a note of commendation for Ivan Yates’ actions that day for which he received a Military Cross.

The next day 2/LIR attacked the village of San Giovanni about 2 miles to the east of Ripi.

John Horsfall describes this:

“The operation in front of us was a straightforward encounter battle as we did not know exactly where the enemy was posted, only that he was present in strength. We would therefore have to probe forward until we hit them and then deal with events as they happened. F, G and H companies attacked the village of San Giovanni and after a ferocious 10 hour street fighting battle in and around the village, the road to Ripi was enabled to be opened up.”

John Horsfall also goes onto to recall the moment when he became aware of the fall of the village by recalling:

“Eventually Desmond (Woods) appeared out of the gloom, with H Company filing cheerfully behind him. They were indescribably dirty, but keyed up by their experiences there was little sign of fatigue. There were a few rueful grins as I indicated Ripi to Desmond. Then, they shouldered their rifles and were off again into the gloaming.”

Ripi had by now been abandoned by the Germans, as San Giovanni had been their last defensive stand in the area and through their stubborn defensive action had allowed their forces to escape to new defensive positions north of Rome. The modern road from Strangolagalli to Ripi passes close to Hill 255, which is on the left hand side and looks down over rolling countryside of multiple hillocks and small valleys. It is immediately clear how difficult the country would have been to cross with tanks. San Giovanni, itself, is strung out along the road to Ripi with steep slopes down into the valley on the left hand side of the road. In the distance can be seen the church spires of Ripi, itself – this view was compared with a scene out of Grimm’s fairytales by John Horsfall. I could see his point.

After 71 days of almost continuous front line action, 2/LIR now had a few days at rest, before they rejoined the advance further north and where in June 1944 they reached the Albert Line, close to the western shore of Lake Trasimene.

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