Heavy rain came to Italy during November 1943, and the opportunity for a rapidly launched assault on the German Winter Line to the north of River Sangro was lost. Several attempts to bridge the wide and rapidly flowing river failed due to the huge quantity of water now flowing down from the mountains. The bridgehead forces from 78 Division, who had crossed the Sangro in expectation of an early attack on the defence line, were now almost fully cut off from their supply lines to the south of the river.
View northwards across the Sangro valley.
A view across the Sangro during November 1943.
The 8th Army now spent over two weeks waiting for drier ground conditions to allow a build up of forces for an attack on the ridge line north of the Sangro and this delay allowed German defensive positions to be strengthened considerably both in the valley plain and on the overlooking high ground.
CQMS O’Sullivan recalled supporting the forward troops near the Sangro River, and a surprise encounter with the 8th Army Commander, General Montgomery.
“The Sangro was in full spate with great tree trunks and other debris and filled the whole valley’s full width of about three quarters of a mile. The Germans had once again harnessed nature to hold up our advance. Two heavy cruisers, which I saw steaming majestically along the coast, joined the bombardment of the enemy line.
The division was billetted south of the Sangro in Cassalbordino and surrounding farms and villages. My task each evening was to take my supplies in a decrepit jeep with a faulty clutch along miles of flooded roads to cross a quagmire near the Sangro. I then followed a road parallel to the river for about 100 yards before reaching a track to the farmhouse where the company was based. My jeep was forever breaking down. One evening, it stopped dead in the quagmire. A friendly Indian driver in a jeep pushed us out at the cost of his own clutch. I was forced to leave him as we dared not stop. The jeep failed again by the side of the flooded river in full view of the enemy and under shellfire. I push-started it and reached the battalion…
…I went to Battalion HQ and met RSM Billy Girvin outside. As we were talking, a large staff car drew up. The little general at the back responded to our salutes and called us over. It was Monty again and he handed over a large parcel. ‘Share these among the chaps,’ he said. Billy threw up a cracking salute as Monty drove off. We discovered that the parcel contained 5,000 Gallaher’s Blue Label cigarettes which would give the men in forward positions an extra day’s ration of seven cigarettes. I used to boast: ‘The last time I spoke to Monty, he gave me 5,000 cigarettes.’
Montgomery’s presence presaged an imminent fresh attack that would involve most of the 8th Army. It called for an initial wave to dismantle the perimeter fences of wires and mines. This would prepare the ground for the main attack.”