Part VII – San Vito to the Moro River

After the successful assault on Fossacesia, both the Faughs and Irish Rifles continued their advance and the last major action of the campaign for the Irish Brigade commenced on 2nd December when the Faughs sent two companies forward behind enemy lines towards San Vito under the command of Major Jimmy Clarke.

Lieutenant Day, who was unsuccessfully recommended for a Victoria Cross for his actions at San Vito.

A patrol, led by Lieutenant John Day, was then sent into San Vito and were greeted enthusiastically by the local people but they immediately came under strong counter attack. Although a number of the patrol were captured, a small group continued a stolid resistance throughout the day. Lieutenant Day, though, was reported missing at the time and was later found to have been killed.

Meanwhile, the main body of Major Clarke’s force, who were positioned just outside the town, was continually attacked during the day, before they withdrew under cover of darkness. Their various actions, though, had made a major contribution to the unhinging of German defensive positions in the area.

On 3 December, the Skins with support from the tanks of 3 County of London Yeomanry attacked San Vito in the late afternoon, but faced some sharp street fighting encounters before securing the town. The Faughs and Irish Rifles were now able to move further north although they required the close support of sappers to clear the ground ahead for their advance. Again, the spearhead force faced a number of counter attacks before being able to reach the high ground overlooking the Moro River. When the Irish Rifles reached the river, they were ordered to capture an intact bridge, but they found it to be mined and covered by a defensive force, and it was agreed that a brigade scale assault over the river was now required.

Before the Irish Brigade were able to join the attack over the Moro, they were relieved by units of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, with the brigade being withdrawn to rest areas well to the rear near to Campobasso, although due to the congestion on the bridges over the Sangro River, their journey south was tortuously slow.

Due to the losses over the previous two months, large amounts of reinforcements now joined all three battalions of the Irish Brigade before they were moved westwards to defensive positions near to the head waters of the River Sangro at the end of December 1943.

The Faughs’ war diaries describe the advance of A and D Company led by Major Clarke during 2nd December:

0100 A and D Coys moved off along track running to demolished bridge.

0400 C Coy and Battalion Command Group took same route.

0515 It ultimately transpired that A and D Coys had reached 373110 at 0515hrs where they made a firm base and sent a patrol under Lieutenant Day into San Vito

0545 Cheers and shouting of “Inglese” were heard followed by shooting.  The patrol had been lead into the town by a local. They had gained the square in the town before contacting Germans and had received a great welcome from the populace. They took several prisoners before they were observed by two armoured cars which opened fire on the patrol. Great confusion was resultant in the town, in which ten of the patrol escaped and laid up – Lieutenant Day was seriously wounded and is now posted as a POW (later found to be have been killed). Eight others were captured. This patrol must have had a terrific effect on the German forces defending the bridge 3607 against the 2 LIR

0900 Adjutant received a delayed report that forward coys were making good progress over very difficult ground…. 

1100 A and D Coys remained in area all day and were counter attacked determinedly at approximately 1100 hrs and 1300 hrs.

1300 Captain OFB Jewell and Lieutenant Fricke were wounded in this latter action. Both attacks were driven off with a very satisfactory ratio of casualties. Apart from these formed attacks, infiltration by the enemy took place all day and at one time they were cut off by fire from the remainder of the Battalion. The FOO, Captain Evans, 26/17 Field Regiment, gave valuable assistance throughout the course of the action. At first dusk, Major JS Clarke, D Coy, ordered both coys back from the lip of the gulley and prepared to spend the night at 376108.

2100 (Major Clarke) received orders from the CO to withdraw to area of station and C Coy plus 1 platoon B Coy, moved up to high ground. The Battalion was then out of contact with the enemy. Casualties for this action – Nil officers and 10 ORs killed, 2 and 10 wounded, 1 (Lieut Day, who was later found dead)  and 9 missing. 

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