May 17th to May 26th 1944.
Defensive emplacements at Aquino.
Roman ruins in Piumarola.
2/LIR had advanced a further mile beyond Casa Sinagoga on the evening of the 16th May, and then had provided flanking support to 6/Inns in their attack on the walled village of Piumarola, which took place in the late afternoon of 17th May. It was during this engagement that Lt-Col Bredin OC of 6/Inns (and later OC of 2/LIR) was badly wounded in both legs but had remained in command of his battalion whilst strapped to the bonnet of a jeep.
John Horsfall recalls 2/LIR’s involvement in the attacks near to Piumarola:
“G Coy hit trouble immediately. Colliding with 1st Paras at the southern end of the village, they were greeted by a storm of machine gun fire as one Spandau after another opened up firing long bursts together. Peter (Grennell’s) men dived for cover as the earth went up in fountains round them, and they lay up there for a space, until their opponents paused for breath or sought new targets. They then began working forward and we soon heard their brens in action…
As the dusk descended, Peter’s riflemen got into the place and the battlefield gradually quietened into intermittent explosions and rifle shots – and for a while almost total silence followed. Later we knew that this action, a rearguard one really, had been a final effort with the Germans racing to get their guns out.”
Following this successful capture of the Fernie line near to Piumarola, and the cutting of Route 6 further north, the battalion then advanced to Aceto just south of the main road to Rome. Here they spent two days awaiting further orders as the 36th Brigade advanced to Aquino airfield and where they encountered heavy resistance and the Polish Corps were embattled in fighting action nearby at Piedimonte. At this point, 2/LIR were then withdrawn into reserve, and rested near to Casa De Fiore until 26th May 1944
CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan remembers:
“We advanced almost to Highway 6, where we were right beneath the ever threatening Monte Cairo and the town of Piedimonte…. and we immediately organised showers, which I thought madness. A draft of reinforcements of about ten men had appeared…..
The consequences of the concern about the cleanliness of the men were far reaching. At least three were killed in the shelling, including the recently promoted and decorated Sergeant Keegan. And the real German observation point for this great battlefield was at last revealed. It was not the ill-starred monastery but three caves near the summit of the 5,000 foot Monte Cairo which commanded the whole area south of Cassino. Artillery very neatly dropped shells in the mouths of the caves. But our reinforcements had been cancelled out by the bombardment.”
John Horsfall adds:
“However, the enemy had not finished with us yet. The battle (for Piedimonte) flared up again at dusk and in their final fling we lost another ten of our men to their guns, my driver among them. Several of our vehicles were hit and burned out, including one of the mortar platoon’s carriers. Most of the casualties were in E company. After dark we pulled back to Fiore, in brigade reserve…”
Piumarola is a mile west of Sinagoga and has several Roman walls that would have formed part of the German defensive line on 17th May 1944. Just to the south of the village, the River Piopetto forms a small basin and was used for washing and collection of drinking water, and is near to the area where 2/LIR gave flanking support to 6/Inns’ fighting entry into the village.
The road out of Piumarola leads past the modern day Fiat factory area and within a short distance of Aquino, the farmhouse at Aceto becomes visible. A mile to the east is Casa Di Fiore, where 2/LIR had set up its headquarters from 21st to 26th May 1944. The farmhouse still remains at Fiore and rather remarkably, we found that the owner is a relative of Damiano’s, who was my constant companion throughout the days in Liri valley. The farmhouse is now being refurbished but some original structural parts still remain and it is suggested that the framework of the building dates from the birth of the newly reunited Italy in the middle of the 19th century.
As a backdrop to this scene of tranquility, Monte Cairo continued to look down on us but at this stage during the battle period of late May 1944 and for the first time for many months was not now occupied by German look outs and artillery banks.
Driving a little further west, we encountered Aquino airfield which had been strongly defended against 36 Brigade’s advance – in the areas close to Aquino town can be seen the remains of many defensive bunkers which would have been topped with Panzer tank turrets and formed a formidable barrier as part of the Hitler Line until it was outflanked by the Canadians at Pontecorvo and the FEC in the high mountains to the west.
Piopetto river near Piumarola.
From Aceto towards Mt Cairo.
Near to Aceto.