Part I – Termoli

Today, the walled old town of Termoli is still very much intact but the harbour area, where the brigade had landed, is now much changed with a modern passenger terminal and marina jostling for space (see the three photographs below).

When the Irish Brigade had set out from Barletta on the morning of 5th October, Brigadier Nelson Russell had expected them to enjoy a “pleasant, peaceful cruise”, with the prospect of little or no combat operations for a week or so, but when they came near to Termoli they realised that this wasn’t anywhere near to be the case.

After initially taking up defensive positions just to the north and west of the town to prevent the continuing advance of the German forces, at noon on 6th October, and with the close support of tanks from 12 Canadian Tank Regiment (12 CTR), both 6 Innisks (Skins), and 1 RIrF (Faughs) commenced a break out attack to secure the bridgehead perimeter. During the early afternoon, 2 LIR (Irish Rifles) supported the attack by advancing to the cemetery area in Termoli, where they were involved in fire fights with the defending forces.

By early evening, the Irish Brigade had achieved all their objectives and secured the Termoli bridgehead for 8th Army.

CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan, who was serving with E Company of the Irish Rifles, vividly recalled the landings at Termoli:

“We embarked into landing craft in battle order and were carried around the Cape formed by Mount Gargano to Termoli. Here, we were dumped on an inhospitable quay with 205mm shells exploding around us. The reception was so warm, the navy did not bother to unload a medical unit complete with stretchers. They just backed out and left. We ran quickly up the cobbled streets carrying everything. The platoons were hurriedly deployed and we dashed into a large hotel building which was occupied by the remains of a commando troop that had taken the port a few hours before…

..When our trucks had caught us up, my staff joined me and were delighted with the luxurious accommodation we had in Termoli. As soon as I was given the location of the farm where the company was, I made my way in a TCV with a hot meal inside six gallon containers. I could not go across country but followed the roundabout route by road.

On the way, I was shelled and shot at. At the farm, I started to feed the men when we became the target of shellfire from some heavy guns. In a lull, I packed my stuff to return to my cooks and storeman. The return journey was even more fraught and I dashed into the hotel out of harm’s way. I was greeted with: ‘What was it like?’ I replied with a vivid description in violent army language. A gentle voice from the back of the room said chidingly: ‘Rosie.’ It was Father Hayes, our padre. I had served Mass for him on many occasions. I stammered an apology and he never mentioned my verbosity ever.”

The Irish Brigade war diaries go on to describe the full events of those two days:

“On 5th October 1943 commencing at 0600hrs, the marching personnel of the brigade and Tactical (Tac) HQ embarked at Barletta. By 0945hrs, the convoy of seven Landing Craft Infantry (LCIs) were ready to leave and shortly afterwards, the leading ship nosed itself out of the harbour. The Brigade Transport Column had left Barletta on the 2nd October and on the 5th was on route from San Severo to a concentration area south of Campomarino.

The sea journey was completely uneventful and at 1945hrs, the convoy arrived at Termoli. The Brigade Commander and the Intelligence Officer (IO) were the first ashore and were greeted by an officer of the Special Service (SS) Brigade, who drove them to his HQ.

The situation in the town appeared somewhat obscure. The enemy were shelling the town spasmodically and it was evident that his main forces were not very far away. A brief picture of the situation was given by the SS Brigade and then the Brigade Commander and the IO drove to 36 Brigade, where a conference had been called by the GOC 78 Division for 2200hrs.  On the journey from the town to the Brigade HQ, several blazing vehicles were passed and to the west, several buildings were on fire.

The conference duly took place at 2200hrs and a plan was formed, as follows:

At 0800hrs on 6th October, tanks of 3 County of London Yeomanry (3 CLY) were to advance due west..and occupy Village Ridge. After Village Ridge was occupied, the Irish Brigade were to take over the ground from the tanks, with the 1 RIrF on the right and the 6 Innisks on the left. Having reached their objective, the infantry were to dig in. 

At 2300hrs on 5th October, Tac HQ was established at Termoli and reports received that the brigade was disembarking steadily at the harbour. The shelling of the town continued at irregular intervals. The day (of 5th October) had been one of determined attack by forces of the 16 German Armoured Division. Throughout the day… heavy confused fighting had taken place on all sectors of the 36 Brigade front with enemy tanks penetrating in several places. At 1700hrs, our tanks had swept the ridge area and the infantry of 6 Royal West Kent Regiment (6 RWK) and 5 Buffs established themselves there. The position, though precarious, was under control by midnight and the plan formed to beat off any attacks by the enemy at first light on the 6th.

The outer defences of the town were held by personnel of the Special Service Brigade and the 2 Lancashire Fusiliers covering the area from just south of the Pescara road to the coast. The 6 RWK and 5 Buffs were established on the ridge area and all available personnel were in defensive positions and covering the approaches to the town.

By 0100hrs, the COs of the three battalions had reported to Tac HQ and reported that disembarkation was proceeding steadily and rapidly in spite of the shelling of the harbour area. The immediate plan was for the brigade to stiffen the perimeter defence of Termoli to ward off a possible enemy attack at first light and then continue to the start line for the plan already made by the Divisional Commander.

By 0330hrs, all three battalions were established in firmly based positions. At 0545hrs, the main HQ transport column arrived at Termoli. As anticipated, the enemy put in an attack with tanks and infantry on the town at first light along the axis of the Pescara road. The enemy attack met with a certain measure of success but he was held up by our defences roughly 400 yards from the western outskirts of the town. Enemy aircraft and artillery were active and the town was being fairly heavily bombarded – his fire was increasingly accurate (later, it was found that there an Observation Post in the church tower).

At 0830hrs, the Divisional Commander visited Tac HQ. The tanks were making rapid progress on the high ground area owing to the bad going and accurate A/Tk fire. 

The Divisional Commander ordered the Irish Brigade to take Village Ridge off its own bat – the fact that the tanks were operating on the high ground would undoubtedly facilitate the infantry advance and in fact have a great effect of the battle.

At 1000hrs, the three Battalion commanders reported to the Tac HQ and they were ordered to get their men onto the start line and be prepared to advance by 1130hrs. The planned axis of attack was the line of the Pescara road with 1 RIrF on the right and 6 Innisks on the left – the right boundary being the road. The objective was the high ground, and having got there, to dig in. 2 LIR were not being let loose until later. Under command was B Squadron 12 Canadian Tank Regiment (12 CTR), who were to advance on the axis north of the Pescara road at the same time as the infantry advance at 1130hrs.

At 1130hrs, 6 Innisks and 1 RIrF commenced their advance with the tanks of 12 CTR, north of the Pescara road. By 1230hrs, forward troops were reported on a general line running south from the Pink House. Considerable opposition was being met from shellfire and MGs.

Our advance continued steadily and by 1300hrs, the tanks of B Squadron 12 CTR, and 1 RIrF were in the area of the Brick Factory, and the 6 Innisks were on the high ground to the south. 2 LIR commenced their advance at 1400hrs and by 1530hrs, two of their companies had reached the area of the cemetery after facing stiff opposition.   

The situation at 1700hrs was well in hand. 2 LIR were in position from the coast to exclude the road junction north of the Brick Factory with the squadron of tanks in their immediate rear.  6 Innisks had 2 companies south of San Giacomo astride the road. The position was now well in hand and the enemy had withdrawn. No shelling had taken place for two hours.

2 LIR had had some heavy fighting in the cemetery area, whilst 1 RIrF met their stiffest opposition in the area of the Brick Factory and to the south on Village Ridge. 6 Innisks had a fairly clear run through except for one incident when an isolated Mk IV Special hidden in a farm caused some casualties, slightly wounding the CO, Lt-Col Grazebrook.

By 1800hrs, 2 LIR commanded the River Sinarca between the sea and the Brick Factory – the 1 RIrF between the Brick Factory and Pt 161, and the 6 Innisks firmly established between pt 161 and south of the village of San Giacomo. The 2 Lancashire Fusiliers, now under command of the Irish Brigade, were in reserve about 1000 yards immediately north east of the Brick Factory. 5 Buffs (from 36 Infantry Brigade) stepped up to gain touch with 6 Innisks in the area of San Giacomo. B Squadron 12 CTR worked with great dash and destroyed 6 enemy tanks and made possible the quick movement of the brigade.    

The whole operation, from the dis-embarkation at the pier to the final occupation of the enlarged bridgehead reflects great credit on the 3 battalion commanders concerned. They disembarked and assembled their battalions for the attack, without any fuss or worry. Most of this was carried out in darkness and under appreciable shell fire and was by no means an easy operation.

At 1900hrs, the following order was issued by Brigade HQ:

“The Irish Brigade will dig in, consolidate.. Positions will be well dug in and held firm…No move forward without further orders and present positions will be held firm.” 

Lieutenant (later Captain) Percy Hamilton, who was then with D Company of the Skins, also recalled the landings at Termoli:

“After dark, we saw several fires burning on the land but didn’t take much notice. We had the Faughs HQ on board and we heard that we were going to land first. We sailed slowly into a tiny harbour and nosed up to the quay. There didn’t seem to be anybody about but the Faughs got off and disappeared into the town and we got off and collected ourselves at the head of the quay. Next thing, there was a hell of a bang just over the end of the pier. Somebody was shelling it. Desmond McCaldin (OC D Coy) went off to find out what was happening and we directed the next couple of LCIs in as there was nobody else. Meanwhile the odd shell kept falling, dropping just a little bit away in the sea. It can’t have been very pleasant for the other LCIs cruising about waiting to come in. These two also contained Faughs who disappeared into the town. While we were still wondering what was going on, a Commando Officer turned up and told us the situation: 36 Brigade and S Coy of the Skins, who had come up by road in the carriers had been holding a line north of the town and Jerry had counterattacked, so that at the moment, things were pretty sticky. We spent the next half hour expecting to see a German head poking over the wall. We knew we were all right from the shelling as there was a high cliff and we were at the bottom of it.

Eventually the rest of the Skins got in and the CO went off to get orders. It was not long before we were on the move through the town; there was not a soul to be seen and there was not a light or sign of civilian habitation. It was the most deserted place I had ever seen. The moon was shining and gave a weird effect. We stopped at the far end of the town; it was not a very big place. I had to look over a house with a view to getting my platoon into a defensive position. I had no torch and didn’t like the job as there might have been the odd Jerry there. I did the best I could with the help of my Platoon Sergeant and a few matches and even that was chancy as we couldn’t show a light outside. Having finished my recce of that house, I was preparing to move the men in, when the CO told me to occupy a very big block of flats the other side of the railway. He said to break open any door we wanted. I divided up the building between the sections and told the section commanders to get cracking. There was a most frightful noise for a few minutes as each flat was locked and the doors had Yale type locks. The rifle butts soon fixed them. It was a job then to find anybody as the sections were spread over four floors and goodness knows how many flats. It was still dark, so I spent the rest of the night going around falling over beds etc while trying to keep in touch. When the dawn came, there was some machine gun fire not far away but we couldn’t tell what was happening. The transport arrived with breakfast and the cooks got to work behind the building. There was also some mail that had come up and Desmond and I were just opening ours when Jerry decided to dive bomb us. He dropped two near the building, but did no damage.

The Bttn got orders to advance and called an O Group. We found that we were advancing as a brigade to a ridge we could see in the distance, with the Faughs on the right heading for the chimney of a brickworks we could see and were to have tanks with them and we were to keep on their left. D was the third company up, so were to just follow on. We wound after the leading companies and stopped on a hill, and we had almost a bird’s eye view of the battle between the Faughs and their tanks and a few Jerry tanks. Then we got onto a flat piece of country ourselves and soon realised that Jerry must have something on our left. The leading companies got pinned down and Desmond went forward to see what was happening and was very nearly hit; the chap, who was lying beside him, between him and a third fellow, was hit by an explosive shell of some kind.”


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