The Allied Armies In the Italian Campaign 1943-1945 came under command of HQ 15th Army group, commanded by Gen Sir Harold Alexander. The 15th Army Group was made up of two field armies, the US 5th Army, commanded by Major Gen F. Clark and the British 8th Army, commanded by Major Gen Sir Oliver Leese.
In May 1944, 7 Field Company RE served in the 4th (Br) Division in support of 28 Inf Bde. The (Brit) 4th Division was part of XIII Corps, which was part of the 8th Army.
15th Army Group
7 Field Company TRF 1944
Bailey panels being transported on a bridging lorry 1944
Following their time in the Inferno Track and the Rapido Valley, maintaining the supply routes to the front line north of Cassino, the 4th Division RE moved down to Mignano to prepare for 'Operation Honker', the breakout of the 'Gustav' Line.
For over four months the Allies had been at a stalemate on the Gustav line, unable to break out into the Liri valley. This well prepared defensive line was dominated by Monte Cassino, the ‘all-seeing’ eye towering over Route 6 running through the Liri Valley on the right, and the Arunci mountains on the left. Route 6 was the main road to Rome, the only viable route the Allies could take, something the Germans were well aware of, hence, the renowned German efficiency being applied when they built this defensive line. Three previous battles had failed to break through at high cost. Operation DIADEM was Gen. Alexander’s new plan involving the US 5th and the British 8th Armies to attack a 21-mile front. The British 4th Division faced the right flank of the Liri Valley and their plan for this assault was code-named Operation ‘Honker’. The Amazon Bridge constructed during this operation undoubtedly played a major part in its success. Built at the second attempt by the combined effort of the Division’s three field Companies, 225, 7 and 59 in that order. This measure was taken as a high casualty rate was expected, and indeed it was, and because of the high casualties, 7 Fd Coy was unable to leave the site when 59 Fd Coy took over, instead they stayed on to its completion. Immediately the bridge opened at 0500 hrs on 13 May, the armour drove across to support the precarious bridgehead. Epic and classic battles followed with infantry and tanks taking out many strong points on the high ground. Casualties on both sides were high and many German prisoners were taken. The Germans eventually withdrew from Cassino on the evening of 17th May. These battles were classics in that all 'Arms' worked together like it could have been written in the manuals of a modern warfare academy. Artillery, Armour, Engineers and Infantry working together, and later with the RAF 'cab - rank' system.
The Company's location in Mignano, 26 April-10 May and 17-19 May 1944.
This was their location where they prepared for the Rapido Bridging Operations, which included clearing mines from, and widening tracks to the bridge sites, clearing Speedy Express of mines, damaged rails, and making it passable for lorries and tanks from the southern tip of Mt Trocchio to the level crossing near to the Amazon bridge site. They also did intensive bridging training near Pietravairano.
At 20.30 hours on the 10th May they moved to a lying up area behind Mt Trocchio in readiness for the Congo bridge build.
Below: Map trace of 7 Field Company's tasks on approaches to the bridge crossing sites, taken from 4 Div HQRE War Diary April 1944
Above; Page from C.R.E's war diary April 1944 naming four different bridge camps for different bridging and rafting training. CRE - Commander Royal Engineers, usually of the rank of Lt Colonel and is the chief Royal Engineer of the Division.
The three Field Companies underwent intensive Bailey Bridge training just prior to the Bridging Operations to capitalise on their already impressive bridge building prowes. Moral was high and all the men were extremely confident.
During this period 4th - 9th May, 7 Fd Coy built a 90ft DS Bailey bridge twice a day for 3 days.
8 Fd Sqn RE was under Command CRE 4 Div and worked on tank tracks and mine clearing prior to and after the river crossings.
Operation 'HONKER' begins 11 May: Time passed by very quickly. Last meals were served from a single cookhouse sheltered in trees below the Company location. Water bottles were filled and checked as the evening closed in when a dull day give way to a clear night. The moon would rise 2330 hrs, fifteen minutes before the infantry began to cross the ‘Rapido’. Sappers prepared dressed in denims, battle order with a Bailey tool slung over the heads to have it in a handy position. Vehicles and uniforms were cleared of divisional and tactical signs. The lights and horns on the vehicles were disconnected before the move to Trocchio. The first party, L/Sgt Vincent with the Italian attachment led by a man named ‘Basil’, left to move the brushwood from the prepared track leading to Congo site. The gunners began to chop down trees in the line of fire of their carefully concealed guns. As normal at 2200 hrs 104 Fd Battery RA began to fire ‘CIGAR’ a smokescreen to cover ration, water and supply parties going forward to Cassino in gym shoes, a regular feature of weeks past, though on this night no supply parties went forward. ‘CIGAR’ finished at 2245 hrs, a complete silence settled on the forward area. A single gun was ordered to fire to break the unreal silence so as not to arouse the enemy’s suspicions. The bridge builders of 2 Pl less drivers gathered fully dressed. Storeman, clerks, wireless operators, DRs all had a job to do as part of the construction team. For a full hour, they lay around in a group enjoying jokes told of past times concerning the 7th.
Promptly at 2300 hrs the guns opened fire in unison crashing out their message, night was turned to day by their flashes concentrated on the valley. Within minutes everyone was on their feet cheering the gunners on, and at the same time looking towards the enemy where an avalanche of shells were exploding on their positions, HQs and strong points.
The fall of shells was visible from the splash of red sparks as the shells exploded. In a short time the sky in front to left and right was lit up by enemy flares of every colour. L/Sgt Vincent’s party completed their task without incident, then took cover with the infantry of 8 Indian DIV. The leading Bn of 28 Bde, 2 Kings made their way forward along the taped lanes carrying assault boats to make their crossing some way north of the Congo site. 2 and 3 Pls formed up wishing each other good luck and 2 Pl moved off on foot in single file at 2345 hrs led by Lt Bocker the Bridge Commander. 3 Pl led by Lt Sharland filed off five minutes later. Lt Hobson and two Sections of 1 Pl were already at the CRE’s Tac HQ under the CRE’s command as a reserve. The OC’s Tac HQ, guides and wireless sets were in position as the Platoons moved forward.
At 2345 hrs the barrage on selected targets stopped, changing to a rolling barrage in front of the infantry now crossing the river on 10 Bde front. 2 Kings however, did not reach the river line on time, and were thirty minutes late missing the advantage of the rolling barrage. The Germans reacted bring down defensive fire on the nearside bank. It was possible to see glimpses of the river line as the 7th moved forward and there appeared to be far too many pin pricks of red explosions on the nearside as the enemy concentrated his fire with every available weapon.
Below: Looking east into the Mignano Gap.
12 May Friday. The smoke screen was building up, it became more and more difficult to see ahead, river mist, dust from gun fire, all contributed to thick fog, and the enemy added to this unexpectedly. Smoke canisters had been set in the river banks with trip wires, when tripped the canisters emitted a thick black smoke. The enemy came up from their deep bunkers on which the barrage had little or no effect, and they now manned their weapons to fight like mad. 2 Pl made their groping way over the last few hundred yards to the Congo site through the enemy defensive fire on the track. On the site work was proceeding on the bank seat, the centre line was laid with tracing tape. Sections were in alarm positions on either side of the track in ditches only 18” deep and visibility was down to a few yards. The enemy now brought down a concentrated stonk of small arms and mortars on the site hitting the track with mortars as near as made no difference on the centre line. A number of people were hit including Lt Bocker, L/Sgt Venn and Spr Smith all recce party evacuated. There was now a period of defensive fire with mortars hitting the site and the odd burst of MG fire from Spandaus drumming out their 1200 rounds per minute. The infantry covering party a Section of 2/4 Hamps had no answer to this even if they could have seen a target. The accuracy of the enemy fire was uncanny as in an atmosphere of almost total fog and smoke blanket, they hit the target. It was clear that unless the infantry cleared a few hundred yards of the far bank and held it, work would be difficult if not impossible on the site. Casualties were mounting, the enemy was cursed and called the worst names in ‘Sapper’ language when oddly enough his fire eased on the site. The recce officer, Lt Barnes manned a Bren gun hoping to knock out one or two MGs but it was difficult to see the river (water) from the bank let alone the far bank. The OC ordered a check: Spr Moore was missing, ten others were wounded including Lt Bocker of 2 Pl out of 56 all ranks. A withdrawal was ordered to a point where the track to the bridge went through a small copse and joined the lateral road King Street. Firstly the wounded which included Sprs Craske, Hill, Kemp, Platt and L/Cpl Wragg were evacuated and then Sections withdrew. Nearby there was a RAP and a troop of Bofor guns pumping out a continuous stream of tracer on a fixed line to give the infantry direction. Due to the mist, smoke and dust on the river line few of the infantry saw their direction finders. No one was to know this at the time as the state of communications in and with the bridgehead was virtually nil. Company HQ could only obtain information by runner, and made a number of requests for infantry support. A recce party went down to the bridge site and were sniped at. Until the far bank was cleared of the enemy there was no hope of bridging, and there was little prospect of that on the 28 Bde front. Due to the 2 Kings being late in making their crossing the follow up Bn, 2 SLI were held up in taped lanes leading to the river and were caught in the enemy defensive fire. The enemy swept the river with MG fire sinking the majority of assault boats, which caused congestion on the river bank. In spite of the ‘lash up’ the infantry rallied getting numbers across the river. With wounded increasing in number on the far bank and little chance of reinforcing the slender bridgehead adequately the position was poor. Still they concentrated grimly holding on to the ground they had occupied short of their objective, in particular the ridge beyond the far bank. 10 Bde did have a foot hold. The 1/6 E Surreys gathered in groups and stormed their objective. Nothing could stop them taking Point 36 (metres), a tough position with MG posts, mines and wire. They cleared it and prepared to hold until a bridge could be built to reinforce them with supplies, A/T guns and tanks.One more effort to commence work on the site was made, numbers checked, working parties were reorganised, recce parties set out. Finally at dawn the CRE ordered the OC to withdraw the party to Company HQ and vehicles to their parks. The enemy must have been listening in, for as the movement got under way with Sections in single file well spaced out, the stonking was stepped up ‘Moaning Minnies’ were added to the shellfire. A summary of the situation on the Divisional front was that the ‘59’ and ‘225’ had fared no better than ‘7’ in their bridging efforts. 28 Bde had had a severe mauling, with an all ranks strength of 250 combined of 2 Kings and 2 SLI across the ‘Rapido’, and as soon as the mist lifted they were subjected to heavy small arms and a continuous cascade of fire from guns and mortars. By midday the only way of crossing the ‘Rapido was to swim or use an abandoned cable found by the CO of 2 SLI. Some of the wounded were evacuated this way. Almost all of the assault boats had been sunk. The enemy had not lost one position. It was a very bleak picture on 28 Bde front. In 10 Bde sector the 1/6 E Surreys were firmly holding their objective, Point 36 the right of ‘Amazon’ bridge site. The 2nd Bedfords on their left were on or near Queen Street the western lateral road. Their location was to the right front of Amazon. ‘D’ Coy, 2 DCLI held a small bridgehead of their own in no depth in front of the enemy stronghold ‘Square Wood’ to the left of the Amazon site, and ‘A’ Coy HQ with 10 & 11 Pls of 2 DCLI had crossed the Rapido, but were unable to link up with ’D’ Coy. The Bde had few if any boats left.
Major-General Ward decided that a bridge must be built at all costs. The plan of the CRE was to use the whole of the Divisional RE to build a class 30 bridge on the Amazon site the only site with any prospect of success. No rafts would be built. The Divisional operation order shows the bridge was class 30 and not class 40 as stated in some accounts of the battle. Each Company ‘225’, ‘7’, ‘59’ would make their effort and 2 Pl 578 Fd Coy Corps Troops would be on hand to assist if necessary and then maintain the bridge. At 1430 hrs the OC called an ‘O’ Group of officers and NCOs in a ditch come sunken track near Coy HQ. A Class 30 bridge, ‘Amazon’ would be built. Major Gabbett, OC ‘225’ was the O i/c. ‘225’ who had recced, and planned the construction, would prepared the site, lay the rollers ready for construction, and unload. They ‘225’ like the’7’ had tried to construct ‘Amazon’ during 11/12 May without success. The enemy had released a heavy smoke screen making movement difficult, and concentrated MG fire on approaches preventing the work going ahead. The ‘7’ would construct the bridge, and the ‘59’ would launch and the deck ‘Amazon’ down. ‘225’ would commence work at 1700 hrs on the site covered by a smoke screen, all available artillery would be used to counter battery fire.
10th Infantry Brigade, Infantry Assault Crossings 11-12 May 1944 written exactly as in their War Diaries
1/6 Bn East Surrey Regt. - their report on the river crossings from their War Dairy. 11 May “A” and “D” Companies moved down to the river late on the night of 11th May followed by “B” and “C”. at 2339 hrs the artillery barrage commenced, the enemy replying with mortars. “A” and “D” then launched their boats. “A” Company crossed amid appalling difficulties, the first two boats being sunk by mortar fire and others being swept downstream by the rapid current. All were across however by 2359 hours although very scattered and under heavy M.G. and mortar fire. “D” Company were greatly harassed by machine gun fire and mortars and empty boats on returning were swept ever further downstream. Major Spencer launched the two reserve boats and got the remainder of the Company across by 00.01 hrs the following morning. They too were very scattered. By 0007 hrs “D” Company had struck a minefield and sustained very heavy casualties. “A” Company, continually harassed by machine gun fire were finding difficulty in keeping up with the barrage. Thick mist and drifting smoke from the barrage added to the already incredible difficulties in keeping the companies together. Ten minutes later “A” Company was still enveloped in fog and struggling towards Pt. 36 from which they were receiving fire. Meanwhile, “B” Company were crossing the river by flying ferry. The C.O. then ordered “D” Company to help “A” Company in the capture of Pt. 36. By 0020 “A” Company were on the verge of Pt. 36 but were pinned down by heavy fire. “C” Company were now crossing the river by flying ferry under heavy M.G. fire. No casualties were sustained by “B” Company during their crossing, which was completed by 0300 hrs, they then pushed on after “A” Company who were slowly forcing their way up the south west slope of PT. 36. “A”,”B” and “D” Companies were on 36 and fighting their way to the top. By 0300 hrs although the situation was very confused, the battalion was in possession of Pt. 36 having suffered very heavy casualties from everything the enemy could bring to bear. Tactical H.Q. was by now over the river and the situation began slowly to clarify.
At 0430 hrs, “A” Coy were dug in on Pt. 36.
“B” Coy were moving forward to Pt. 63.
“C” Coy were trying to contact “B” Coy, and
“D” Coy were in the area of Pt. 36 with “A” Coy having suffered severely in the minefield. Although we were now definitely established on Pt. 36 there were still strong pockets of resistance held by the enemy, who had very strong positions dug into caves.
Major Burns and Major Newton then led a composite force against the enemy who still clung to PT. 36 and by 0630 hrs the feature was clear of the enemy. “B” Coy then withdrew from Pt. 36 to 63 and occupied its forward edge. The carrier platoon was then called forward dismounted to assist the Rifle Companies. Later in the evening of the 12th, tanks crossed the river lower down and were reported on their way to help. At 2110 hrs the following message was received from Bde:
“Own tanks are across the river and advancing North as far as possible. Location not known. All tanks will cross as soon as construction completed. Hold hard present positions. D.F. form solid ring around you. Every available gun. All D.F. is S.O.S and everything can come down at once. Supplies, water, amn will come somehow. You have done magnificently. Corps, Div and Bde Sunrays intensely proud of you. If you require any further information ask me.”
The night of the12th was quiet although counter attacks were expected hourly. Very heavy mortar fire started at 0500 hrs and machine gun fire covered the whole area. Visibility was very poor owing to thick mist and the C.O. suspecting a counter attack requested an artillery S.O.S. Heavy fire crashed down from our gunners and the attack did not materialise.
2nd Bn Beds and Herts Regt - War Diary 11-12 May 1944
822186 11 May. 2300 hrs. Arty counter Bty fire opens.
875182 11 May. 2340 hrs. Bn in railway cutting
870183 12 May. 0020 hrs. Bn leaves railway cutting for area barracks
870183 12 May. 0006 hrs. Heavy smoke obscures river crossing
868184 12 May. 0200 hrs. ‘’C’’ Coy start crossing Gari on right crossing - using flying ferry
12 May. 0201 hrs ‘’B’’ Coy start crossing - using left crossing - (I boat only)
12 May. 0330 hrs. ‘’ C’’ Coy over complete
868184 12 May. 0300 hrs. ‘B’ Coy over complete
12 May. 0301 hrs. ‘D’ Coy start crossing
12 May. 0315 hrs. ‘A’ Coy start crossing
12 May. 0348 hrs. ‘D’ Coy over complete
12 May. 0410 hrs. ‘B’ Coy on S.L.
12 May. 0445 hrs. ‘C’ Coy at Pt 31 (with approx 1.½ Platoons of ‘C’ Coy)
12 May. 0515 hrs. ‘C’ Coy at S.L. (correct area)
12 May. 0615 hrs. Position as follows:
Bn HQ, river bank 868183
‘B’ Coy 861178 - ‘C’ Coy 862181
‘D’ Coy 863184 - ‘A’ Coy dug in along track area 865184.
All Coys and Bn HQ under heavy shell and mortar fire. Enemy machine guns still active particularly area 863187. Bn posns maintained throughout the day along road 861179 to 863184. This in spite of constant counter attacks (‘’B’’ Coy) at estimated strengths of between 20 and 50 enemy and constant shelling, mortaring and small fire. Enemy MGs active behind and left of ‘’B’’ Coy area. All Coys have fairly heavy casualties, i.e:-
By nightfall ‘’B’’ Coy - 10 killed, 13 wounded. ‘’ C’’ Coy - 9 killed and 19 wounded. Total casualties:- Offrs 2, O.R’s 72.
2nd Bn D.C.L.I. Regt War Diary 11-12 May 1944
2345 hrs W hour 6 Surrey begin crossing at Rhine 868184 at two point 100yds apart. Boats crews were “C” Coy 2 DCLI. 18 Platoon (Lt Howard Smith) right crossing, 17 Platoon (Sgt Innis) left crossing. Enemy small arms and mortar fire opened as soon as first boats were launched.
2355 hrs. “D” Coy begin crossing at Orinoco 870178. Boat crews were 16 Pl (Lt Hook) “C” Coy. Both these crossings made in the face of considerable enemy small arms and mortar fire - generally D.F. and fixed lines. As there was much smoke about laid under Corps arrangements to screen crossings. 6 Surreys were successfully put across but of the five assault boats employed at each of 17 Pl and 18 Pl crossing sites, one remained at the forward and two at the latter. 6 Surreys succeeded in erecting a flying ferry at each of their sites. At Orinoco crossing the boats survived until all “D” Coy except a part of HQ, including CSM were across. 8 Pl (Lt Carwell) and 9 Pl (Lt Price) advanced to a position about 100 yds short of wood 867179 (Square Wood) and dug in. Considerable enemy machine gun fire was encountered from this wood. “D” Coy Comd (Major Gill) with Coy HQ and 7 Pl (Sgt Candy) moved to the right and slightly in rear of the forward platoons and close to the river bank. Enemy mortaring soon developed on the Coy locality.
12 May, 0005 hrs. O.C. “B” Coy (Major Barfield) reports own MMGs firing short on house occupied by 13 Pl ( Lt ?). Our casualty.
0030 hrs. 2 Beds and Herts crossing begun at Rhine. The three remaining boats only survived long enough to get two Coys across. Thereafter flying ferries only could be used and the boats coupled on the ferries had twice to be replaced. 2 Beds and Herts were thereafter not over complete till 0400 hrs approx..
0040 hrs. “D” Coy report their crossing complete (less CSM and part of Coy HQ)
0100 hrs. Bn HQ closes present location and moves to old “D” Coy 875185. Pers of Bn HQ, “A” Coy and “B” Coy lying up in railway cutting 875184.
0720 hrs. Sitrep - 6 Surreys across and their “A” and “C” Coys in contact with enemy on PT. 36, 865185. 2 Beds and Herts over with two and a half Coys on S.L. “D” Coy 2 D.C.L.I. across and covering ORINOCO crossing 870178, but this crossing unusable and the construction of a bridge made impossible owing to enemy fire on river bank. Enemy holding wood 867179. (Square Wood) Heavy casualties to ferry construction pers and to “C” Coy assault boat crews. Ferries at RHINE 868184 working. 16 Pl “C” Coy was withdrawn at dawn into house at 874181.
0745 hrs. Orders by wireless from Bde Comd that a sweep will be made from North to South across front of “D” Coy to clear up enemy holding up construction of Orinoco crossing. L.O. arrives with confirmation of these orders.
0830 hrs. “A” Batt Comd 91 L.A.A. reports situation at 28 Inf Bde crossings not good. Units there have little more than a footing on far bank and enemy have small arms fire on both crossings. Guns of this Bty prepared to fire on targets over our front if visibility improves. C.O. details “A” Coy to cross river and do the sweep across “D” Coy front, and he leaves on recce of crossing sites with O.C “A” Coy (Major Rock) and I.O. (Lt Nichols).
0930 hrs. C.O. returns. States “D” Coy being heavily mortared.
0945 hrs. I.O. 6 Surreys arrive having returned from Pt 36. 865185 and reports his Bn is now on that feature.
1145 hrs. “A” Coy start crossing river by right hand flying ferry - the only one still working at RHINE. Very slow process and mist had lifted considerably by this time. Enemy M.G. fire made it impossible to get last boat load (C.S.M. and 16 O.R’s of 12 Pl) over.
1215 hrs. 10 Pl (Lt Fowles) and 11 Pl (Sgt Eddy) move southward and put in an attack on enemy in wood 867179 (Square Wood) but are pinned down by fire from several M.Gs. Wire and “S” mines encountered on approaches to this enemy position. Three enemy snipers shot down from trees in this area. These platoons were forced to take shelter from mortar fire in a ditch full of water and remained until recalled at 1800 hrs to rejoin “A” Coy still covering RHINE crossings. Bde Comd’s authority was obtained by C.O. for the abandonment of the sweep across “D” Coy’s front in view of very high casualties that would result.
1345 hrs. Major Robins 2 i/c 6 Surreys arrive with orders from Bde comd for a further new attack by the Bde tonight
1700 hrs. C.O’s orders to O.C. “B” Coy, Mor Pl and MMGs for tonight’s attack. “D” and “A” Coys remain in present crossing positions, and firing banks covering both crossing sites.
1900 hrs. L.O. arrived with orders from Bde. There is to be no attack by 10 Inf Bde tonight. A Bailey bridge to be built at AMAZON 868183 during night so that units 17/21 L may cross in sp of an attack by 12 Inf Bde early am tomorrow. Very considerable Artillery, mortar, nebel werfer and small arms fire on river banks throughout today and this night. Heavy casualties to ferry construction pers, to “C” Coy pers manning assault craft (approximate 30 incl missing) and RE pers constructing bridge. 17 and 18 Pls were withdrawn into “The Barracks” 870173 by “A” 2i/c (Major ?) at 1600 hrs. Very great credit is due to his Coy for the successful accomplishment of its task today in the face of heavy enemy fire.
2100 hrs. C.S.M “A” Coy (C.S.M Rhodes) and 16 O.R’s of 12 Pl was able to cross and join “A” Coy.
2200 hrs. 18 Pl ( Lt Howard Smith) “C” Coy, deployed on home bank to cover RE pers constructing Bailey bridge. All boats lost by midnight and impossible to get rations over to “D” and “A” Coys, by this time Lt Mock and C.S.M. Mauley (D Coy) tried to launch a boat at ORINOCO to reach “D” Coy but this was impossible in face of enemy small arms fire from bank.
28th Infantry Brigade's Infantry Assault Crossings 11-12th May 1944- written exactly as in their War Diaries
2nd Bn Kings Regt (Liverpool) War Diary 11-12 May
11 May.2159 hrs. Bn less ”A” & “B” Echelons left for Assembly Point.
2335 hrs. B.A.P. Reached and Coys proceeded to “X” and “Y” Crossings. Heavy Mortar and Machine gun fire encountered and many casualties were sustained.
12 May, 0035 hrs. Command Post established 250 yds East side of “Y” Crossing, unable to cross owing to boats being destroyed. Command Post consisted of C.O., RA Bty Comd, I.O., and R.S.M.
1015 hrs. No communications from any Coys. Many casualties passed through to rear. One wounded man brought in a prisoner, who was despatched to Bde HQ forthwith.
0130 hrs. “A” Echelon left for Bde Assembly Point.
0202 hrs. Intelligence Sjt joined Command Post and gave news of wire and mines contacted by “A” Coy. O.C. “S” Coy last seen carrying 18 set forward.
0207 hrs. Contact made with ”D” Coy who reported approaching Green Lane. Heavy casualties reported by them. No W/T contact made with control or any other Coy. Signal Officer reported Missing, last seen by Signal Serjeant being swept down the River.
0245 hrs. “A” Echelon reported reached Assembly Point. News received that O.C. “A” Coy was missing and O.C. “B” Coy was wounded whilst passing through a minefield.
0430 hrs.Rear HQ, consisting of Adjutant, 18 set, 22 set and one member of “I” Section attempted to reach Command Post, but was compelled to return owing to absence of bridge or ferries causing a stream of traffic back along the road. “C” Coy led by Major Tuohy had suffered many casualties on passing through a mine field covered by enemy fire. It was so depleted that they were unable to gain their objective. O.C “C” Coy withdrew his company to the near side of the minefield and consolidated the remaining personnel of his Company on a line formed by an irrigation channel about 150 yds from the enemy strong points. Major Tuohy although under fire at the time, personally collected the remnants of the other Coys which had become disorganised owing to heavy casualties sustained, and withdrew them to his line of consolidation. Fire was kept up throughout the night on the enemy in order to avoid counter attack.
0830 hrs. Rear HQ arrived at Bde HQ. No communication with main body had been made. Adjutant received instructions to collect reinforcements and proceed to main body.
1000 hrs. Adjt went forward with approx 30 men. Rear HQ went forward by only possible vehicle route but failed to get through owing to the road being blocked. Rear HQ received instructions to return to the Assembly area. RSM arranged Assembly area for remnants of Bn and 2 SOM LI at area 875191.
1330 hrs. O.C. “D” Coy arrived at Assembly area. O.C. “D” Coy reported having reached objective but had suffered very heavy casualties and was forced to withdraw. News also received that Commanding Officer had been severely wounded and that the “I” Sjt had been killed. The I.O. had also received wounds.
1410 hrs. Adjutant returned to Assembly area having failed to contact Command Post.
2nd Bn Somerset Light Infantry Regt War Dairy 11-12 May 1944
11 May. Bn lay up in assembly area. Messages from Gen the Hon. Sir Harold R.L.G. ALEXANDER. G.C.B. C.S.I. D.S.O., M.C., Comd Allied Armies in Italy, and Lt. Gen SIR OLIVER REESE, bt, K.C.B., C.B.E. D.S.O., Comd 8th Army were read out to the troops. (Appx ‘B’)
THE CROSSING OF THE RIVER GARI
The plan in brief was for 2 KINGS, in conjunction with units of other formations on right and left, to cross the R. GARI in assault boats and advance to a well defined objective; for 2 SOM LI. To cross behind 2 KINGS and pass through them to a further objective, and for 2/4 HAMPS to provide ferrying parties for assault boats, organise the ferries, and subsequently come into reserve. ZERO hr, when the first boats of 2 KINGS entered the water was to be 2345 hrs 11 May. The crossings were to be at two places - “X” the right crossing place, and “Y” the left crossing place.
At 2300 hrs the arty programme started with a terrific roar.
At 2345 hrs, the head of the Bn passed the S.P. en route for the river. At 2345 hrs the head of the Bn caught up the tail of 2 KINGS on the railway. It was already evident that the KINGS programme had been somewhat delayed.
12 May. Shortly after midnight, the head of the Bn reached the road which was the boat assembly position, but no guides from 2/4 HAMPS, as expected, were there to meet them. After a search round, the start of the respective routes to “X” and “Y” Crossings were found and Coys directed down them. “A” followed by “B” Coy to “X” crossing. Unexpectedly the 2/4 HAMPS control offr on “Y” route wanted “C” Coy to carry down reserve boats, though stating all was well at the crossing. One boat was actually despatched with “C” Coy, but Lt. Col J.R.I. PLATT said he was afraid of delay and would prefer the remainder to be carried by “D” Coy when they came along. This was agreed to. By soon after 0030 hrs, leading Coys on both crossings were well down towards their crossings, when they bumped the tail end of 2 KINGS. On “Y” crossing they had got not more than one coy across and were having a sticky time of it. A wireless message from “A” Coy, with which comns was maintained for some time, confirmed a similar state of affairs on “X” Crossing. Lt Col. J.R.I PLATT attempted to contact Bde HQ on the Bde 18 set net, but neither at this time nor at any other time was contact established on this net. Major D. CUNLIFFE, of 20 Fd Regt RA.,
attempted the same thing on his 22 set net, but with no more success. The whole valley was now full of smoke - either put down by the enemy, or from our arty barrages - which tendered to increase confusion. In addition starting about 0300 hrs, numbers of large R.E. vehicles carrying ferrying equipment, started comping down the taped paths. These now quite blocked the route and compelled the infantry, to pass them, to go out into uncleared parts of the minefield. Enemy mortaring of the track was now fairly heavy. Lt. Col J.R.I PLATT. went forward and contacted O.C. 2 KINGS, who said all the boats had been knocked out. He continued down to the embarkation Pt and found no attempt at further crossing was going on - mortaring being very heavy. He went back and ordered down the boat with “C” Coy and three more being brought along by “D” Coy. These all arrived in due course and at (perhaps) 0200 hrs the second coy 2 KINGS was able to start crossing.
They were followed by Bn HQ 2 KINGS, less a small comd post as the C.O had left to meet the Bde Comd. At (perhaps) 0300 hrs. “C” Coy under comd of Major T.P. LUCKO CK, were able to start crossing. They all got over within the next hour, collected and reorganised on the far bank, and advanced through tps of 2 KINGS to the edge of the first road running parallel to the river some 400 yds inland. Here they came under heavy fire from Spandaus on fixed lines, so consolidated in the ditches on the near side of the road. At “X” crossing things appeared to have been going even worse, though wireless touch was now lost, Lt. Col J.R.I. PLATT sent Capt WINLOVE-SMITH round to bring “B” Coy round to “Y” crossing. This was done and “B” Coy moved up behind “D” Coy at “Y” crossing. Meantime “A” Coy had started to cross under considerable difficulties and met considerable opposition on the far bank. The Coy Comd. Major H PLATT was wounded and taken prisoner whilst trying with a small party of tps to deal with an enemy post. It seems doubtful whether more than one complete platoon of “A” Coy crossed the river - that under comd of Lt A.E. SUTTON-PRYCE, which succeeded in linking up with ”C” Coy on his left. Meanwhile the sappers had got another ferry going 100 yds upstream of the first ferry at “Y” crossing. Lt. Col J.R.I. PLATT took “D” Coy along to this crossing, which the sappers had now left. “D” Coy was at first held up by a boat stuck half way across with a wounded man in it. The boat was out adrift. However, the man warned, and the Coy less one Pl ferried across the river. (The third Pl had become detached and crossed behind “C” Coy). Lt. Col J.R.I. PLATT crossed with “D” Coy, advanced some 200 yds up the bank and placed them in position on the Left flank of the bridgehead, where they were able to link up with “C” Coy. Bn HQ crossed in rear of “C” Coy and was established just fwd of the ferry. Wireless comn was now at a complete standstill, and touch was lost with Bde HQ. “B” Coy had moved up to the left ferry at “Y” crossing in rear of “D” Coy. Lt. Col J.R.I. PLATT placed them in position on the river bank to cover “C” and ”D” Coy’s positions with fire as daylight would not now be long appearing. Lt. Col J.R.I. PLATT after contacting “C” Coy recrossed the river and contacted O.C. 2 KINGS who was speaking to the Bde Comd on the 22 set. Lt. Col J.R.I.PLATT spoke to Bde Comd, explained situation on far bank and agreed to return and try and organise a further advance to the first objective. Meanwhile enemy mortar and “nebelwerfer” fire was getting heavier. About this time “B” Coy withdrew well behind the river to the boat assembly position on some alleged order which did not originate from Lt-Col PLATT. Lt-Col PLATT and Lt-Col GARNONS-WILLIAMS then recrossed the river to reconnoitre for a further advance. Shortly afterwards, Lt-Col GARNONS-WILLIAMS was severely wounded by a mortar bomb. It was well after daylight but the thick smoke still allowed free movement. As this started to clear, Lt Col PLATT was able to see that the road in front was wired as well as covered by fixed lines from Spandaus. He therefore decided no further advance was possible without proper arty support. He was returning to Bn HQ to inform the Bde Comd of this when he was wounded by a mortar bomb and compelled to lie out all day away from his HQ. As it was now light and enemy snipers and Spandaus were active on both flanks and front, no further movement was possible by daylight. Heavy enemy mortaring continued all day. During the night Lieut A. G. MORGAN from Bn HQ contacted Lt Col PLATT and a verbal message was sent to Bde HQ that:-
1.Fwd tps were still on the line of the first rd (green route on the traffic map)
2.No further advance would be possible without proper arty, and preferably fresh troops.
3.Lt-Col GARNONS-WILLIAMS had been seriously wounded, and there were a lot of wounded to be collected.
No further tps crossed the river during the night, and no contact with Bde was made. Enemy mortaring continued heavy. On the evening of the 12th May a force consisting of one composite Coy 2 SOM LI made up of the bulk “B” Coy and stragglers from “A”, “B” and “C” Coys and one Coy of 2 KINGS was formed under comd Major ODLING-SMEE 2 KINGS. This force remained in posn on the near bank of the river until the Bn was withdrawn.
2/4 Bn Hamps Regt War Diary 11-12 May 1944
11 May. Only moderate shelling, particularly near ’A’ Coy’s posns to report during the morning.
1030 hrs. C.O. visits Bde to see Brig.
1730 hrs. Conference of Coy Comds at Bn HQ. Details of plan for next ops (EX HONKER) are discussed (see OOs). General outline of plan is as follows:- 28 Inf Bde will cross the river GARI at two points to be known as ‘X’ and ‘Y’ Crossings at (865173 and 865175 resp). 2/4 Hamps will be in reserve, holding present posns until advance has been made to BROWN LINE, when it will cross and adv through 2 KINGS, who will have taken BROWN - on to BLUE, which will have been taken by 2 SOM LI, and then from BLUE, attack RED in the early morning of 12 May. If opposition is light, then to exploit on the final objective, which is GREEN. ‘D’ Coy 2/4 HAMPS will act as ferry Coy for the Bde and are responsible for getting all three Bns across the GARI, after which it will rejoin the Bn on BROWN. One Pl ‘A’ Coy were to assist the REs in building a Br. (for details of BROWN, BLUE, RED and GREEN objectives see trace “B” att to OO No 1). The attack is to be proceeded by a terrific concentration of Arty, which will lift as leading Bns cross the river. Evening spent in arranging all details.
2300 hrs. Arty barrage commences; it is the greatest of the war to date, and is a most magnificent spectacle. Bn stands by ready to move.
It became apparent as the night progressed that the attack by the 2 KINGS and 2 SOM LI had only partial success. Under heavy machine-gunning, mortaring and shellfire, they got about half way to their objective, where they were pinned. ‘D’ coy bore the brunt of the shelling, being on the river bank all the time, sustaining 26 Cas incl 4 killed. C.Coy were sent down in the night to assist D.Coy as cas were taking such a toll. One sec of A.Coy covering the building of a class 30 Br by REs at 866172, all became casualties with the exception of one OR, so another sec was detailed to take its place from A.Coy. The attack started off in brilliant moonlight but after the barrage, the resultant smoke and dust kicked up reduced visibility on the river bank to a minimum. The CO and 2i/c went to the crossing to investigate.
0630 hrs. At this time a very unfortunate thing happened. A direct hit by a shell on the BAP control Pt at 873175 killed O.C.s ‘D’ and ‘C’ Coys (Major E.C. Henley and Major W.C.T.N. Way) and three ORs who were with them. Two Bde Sigs who were in a different compartment of the sandbagged post, escaped unscathed. At dawn the remainder C and D.Coys were withdrawn from the banks to their original posns as no useful purpose could be served by keeping them on the banks. Throughout the day the Bn stood to, awaiting further developments.
0900 hrs. CO holds ‘O’ Gp at Bn HQ and situation was discussed. During the afternoon, orders were received that 2/4 HAMPS would attack across the river using the same crossings as before. D.Coy were to continue as Ferry Coy, assisted by composite force of 2 KINGS and 2 SOM LI. Object was to link up with personnel already across the river and consolidate on BROWN. Tanks from the 8th Indian Div who had crossed the river on our left were to come up and assist 2/4 HAMPS mop up the line as far as BROWN.
1730 hrs. CO holds conference at Bn HQ and issues his orders.
2010 hrs. However during the late evening the plan was changed, as the promised tanks would have been unable to keep their RV. Alternative orders was issued. Bn is to proceed by march route to Assembly area at 881192 and cross under Comd 12 Inf. Bde, who were establishing a Br over the GARI, called the AMAZON br at, 867182. The br will be crossed by 0625 hrs, and Bn is to proceed SOUTH, mopping-up BROWN along the line of QUEEN ST (see trace “C” attd to OO No.1) and assisting 6 BW.
2355 hrs. O.Gp collected by jeep and arrived at Bn HQ. Orders as above are issued and Bn concentration prior to move to SP. Present posns will be taken over by a composite force of 2 KINGS and 2 SOM LI. Relief to commence at 0200 hrs.
12-13th May. The 4th Division Sappers Build The Amazon Bridge
Major Gabbett’s plan was based on a detailed recce report obtained at the third attempt by LT More after spending a day in ‘The Barracks’. (with Lt Severn) This was a building overlooking the river. The recce was completed by Lt More and Cpl Gibbs. The site was at the head of a bend in the river as per the map. The approaches were across a flat open field about 300 yards from the lateral King Street. Both banks were shingle. The organisation was sorted out: Lt Sharland was i/c Bridge, and Lt Hobson was his deputy. Lt Barnes was responsible for leading the Company to a vehicle park at the northern end of Trocchio, and then on foot to the CREs Tac HQ which would be used as a ‘laying up area’.
At 1700 hrs the OC’s recce party, Lt Sharland and NCO i/c construction moved off and drove down Route 6 in a jeep, turning left on to a track around the base of Trocchio into some cover, and then on foot into a ditch at the double, in the open, north of Trocchio. The OC leading set a good pace trotting to the ‘Amazon site’. it was a bright clear evening, and the Monastery was in full view. The ditch led to the railway (Speedway) which was crossed and a further 500 yards on was the east lateral King Street. ‘Amazon’ site came into view after turning left on King Street. The OC halted at a steep sunken track up the lower slopes of Trocchio near the Bridge HQ ‘The Barracks’. He told the NCO i/c C to go to the top of the sunken track to find Lt Barnes and the 7th, and bring them down to the site. Lt Sharland went to Bridge HQ to report to Major Gabbot. At the top of the track the NCO met Sgt Clark HQ Sgt. The 7th were on their way from the vehicle park, and would come out on ‘Speedway’ and climb up the railway cutting to where there was an ADS in a small building. It looked like the 7th would have a long wait before taking over the site, which was a disappointment. The open field from King Street to the river was swept by MG fire and snipers were very active located in ‘Square Wood’ 300 yards to the left of the site, a very strong position with MGs etc. Whilst taking in this scene the CRE arrived looking rather pale saying Major Low had been hit, and was lying on a track running parallel to the sunken track about 150/200 yards away. Two NCOs went off at once to bring the OC to the ADS. The OC was lying on the side of the track badly shot through the thigh. The CRE had carried him to this place after the incident. He was taken to the ADS, where he was immediately attended to by a doctor. Progress on the site was slow. The enemy now brought down a continuous stonk with shells and mortars on and near the laying up area.
Lt Sharland came to the track, and held an ‘O’ Group with Lt Hobson, NCO i/c C & HQ Sgt. The 7th would be called down to the bridge site in due course and would then unload and construct the bridge. It was not until after the ‘O’ Group that it be became apparent that Lt Sharland was wounded in the back, he had to be forcibly taken to the ADS to join the OC. Stonking was quite heavy as an involved discussion took place at the 7th’s Tac HQ near the ADS.
The construction Section took up alarm positions along the river bank on the right. The remainder under the command of the OC on the bridge site Lt Hobson, took over the unloading of bridge lorries from the ‘225’.
Despite XIII Corps concentrated counter-battery, fire continued to harass the site from positions to SW on a bearing of 200 degrees.
It was found that the wireless set linking with the Bridge HQ had broken down, which caused a loss of time bringing up the bridge lorries as runners had to be used. A smoke party from 9 Section, 3 Pl were detailed as the RA smoke party were not on or had left the site.
At this time 2100 hrs ‘225’ left the site having completed the approaches, unloaded much of the bridge and set the positions of the rollers. 2100 hrs Lt Hobson OC on site held an ‘O’ Group. The unloading was almost finished and construction parties were organised. 2145 hrs HQ Sgt supervised the final setting of the rollers. 2200 hrs in failing light the order to commence was given. A tremendous effort was made to complete the first four bays as quickly as possible to make sure that should there be a stonk at least the building rollers were spanned. Luck was with the 7th doing this, and in the completion of the first few bays of the bridge, the link was over the first ‘Building’ roller. Enemy fire now took its toll. Eight men were wounded. As there was no vehicle on site to evacuate the wounded, it was necessary to use members of the construction party. Lt Hobson asked for replacements and these were provided by ‘59’. One Section in number, who were detailed to work as transom parties, worked in that capacity until the completion of the bridge. Another party of the ‘59’ unloaded the last two lorries carrying decking.
The fearless, disciplined courage of the panel and transom parties carrying their six man loads set a very high standard. Due to the height of the building rollers from the ground, once the loads had been lifted it was essential to hold them as a team. It says a great deal that no injuries were reported by panels and transoms falling due to a member of the carrying parties letting go of their load whilst the enemy did their best to take them out. Without NCOs due to casualties, Sections led themselves without orders or pause.
Construction was slowed but not stopped by enemy fire from all weapons. At intervals white verey lights were fired over the site causing the personnel on site to be silhouetted against the river mist. 13 May Saturday. It was now a question of when, not if the bridge would be finished. There was never any question in the minds of the construction party on this point.
0200 hrs. The body of the bridge was now complete. Plain rollers, base plates and jacks were wedged into the launching nose for use on the far bank. Decking down would be done to its limit. So the fact of not having anyone on the far bank was not thought to be a problem. Spr Mann was dispatched to the CRE’s Tac HQ requesting infantry cover. Later an infantry Section took up a covering position. 0230 hrs. 6 Section under Cpl Smiles the 7th was ordered into the centre of the bridge to deck down, and continued on that task until the bridge was finally finished including ramping down on the far bank.
During the first stage of the launch ‘By Hand’ at a point when the tail was at the correct level having passed the last plain building rollers the enemy fired a burst of automatic fire down the bridge. This caused no casualties as the aim was too high, and in any case the tail of the bridge was about head height on an upward incline. The straining, pushing Sappers at the tail of the bridge were safe from this kind of fire. Lt Boston ‘59’ took command ordering all ‘Tommy Gunners’ (Section Commanders) to the river bank. L/Sgt Parry and a Spr of ‘59’ went looking for the enemy. The bridge was far enough across and over the far bank for the plain rollers to be placed as well as possible in the circumstances under the panel cords of the bridge.
0315 hrs.The bridge was decked to the fifth bay by 6 Section ( 7th) and as much decking as possible was loaded on the tail. A Section of infantry arrived to give covering fire.
‘Amazon’ was pushed as far as possible by hand, until the front transom of the launching nose and panel chords of the leading bay cut into the far bank pushing a way through it. 6 Section of the 7th continued decking. The last available bulldozer a D4 ‘Weary Willie’ trundled up to the tail of the bridge for stage II of the launching. Now both Sappers and ‘Weary Willy’ pushed together. All went well until the engine of the D4 seized up due to a punctured radiator caused by enemy fire. ‘Amazon’ was 20’ short of its final position. Lt Boston found the leading tanks 2 Troop, ‘C’ Squadron, 17/21ST Lancers. He hammered on the leading tank with his revolver and eventually Lt Wayne the Troop commander opened his hatch. His tank was to cross the ‘Amazon’ as soon as it was built. As the tank moved to the bridge site a discussion took place under the tail of the bridge as to whether or not to jack the bridge down once it had reached the rocking rollers on the base plates. It was decided to push it clean off the rocking rollers on to the railway sleepers which were laid in front of the base plates and on top of the grillage already laid. A stonk of mortar fire hit the bridge area in a shower of red hot sparks of shrapnel.The maintenance party of 2 Pl, 578 Fd Coy RE, Corps Troops arrived at the site.
Stage III of the launching began when the leading tank drove up to the bridge, and a stringer was used as a ram from the front of the tank to the centre of the last transom. The transom was held firm by the decking. The bridge was pushed forward and off the rocking rollers on to the sleepers laid ready for it.
0330 hrs. An order was given for all the ‘7’ and ‘59’ to leave the bridge site. Lt Barnes and Hobson, Sgt Clark, NCO i/c Construction, 6 Section, L/Cpl Horsley, Sprs Dodds and Davidson of the 7th remained and there were others bringing up decking for the ramp on the far side.
It was now essential to finish the work on the far bank before the mist cleared enabling the enemy to have a good view. Base plates, Jacks were yanked out of the launching nose. The whole party worked like beavers and the task was completed with the ramping down done in record time. Everyone returned to the nearside and down came quite a stonk. The NCO i/c C and Sgt Clark crossed the bridge checking the ribband bolts on the decking. As they were checking, troublesome automatic fire hit the bridge sending a cascade of sparks in all directions. Then came another stonk. The enemy must have seen the tanks lining up to cross the bridge firing from a bearing of 230 degrees from the left.
The Amazon Bridge Launch
2/4 Hamps take German prisoners on the Gustav Line 13 May 1944
The Amazon Bridge was opened at 0500 hours and at approximately 0520 hours the 17/21 Lancer's tanks had crossed For two days it was used night and day, without pause, taking the tanks of 26 Armoured Bde, guns and supplies into, and wounded out of the bridgehead, quickly followed by the remainder of 2 DCLI 10 Bde, and then the 2/4 Hants of 28 Bde. As the infantry crossed snipers were still at work. Ably supported by 26 Armoured Bde, the Divisional infantry hit the enemy with attacks from all directions, resulting in the surrender of over 300 Germans many of them from the 1st Para Division. Their MG Bn was used to try and check the attack on Cassino, and they lost many MGs in the process, using the white flag judiciously, raising it as the tanks approached then putting it down to engage the infantry after the tanks had moved on. There was no stopping the infantry who stormed and took their objectives white flags and all.
2/4 Hants swept through capturing all the 28 Bde objectives and finally forced the surrender of a tough objective in the 8 Indian DIV’s sector known as ‘platform’ due to its shape. (The ‘Congo Bridge’ was pointed almost directly at the ‘Platform’). The survivors of the 2 Kings & 2 SLI assisted the 2/4 Hants attacks, and were then withdrawn from battle. Captain Wakeford of the 2/4 Hants was awarded the VC as a result of these attacks, the only VC awarded to the 4th Division in WW II.
The ‘Amazon’ had given the infantry a chance to show their paces and the Germans did not like it. The maintenance party of ‘578’ had a hard time keeping the bridge open. At one point it was closed for a short time whilst the decking was repaired due to it being chewed up by streams of traffic. Lt Hon G Cross RE, OC 2Pl ‘578’ was reported missing, later in the day his body was found, apparently he was killed by mortar fire.
It should be recorded that the detachment of 2 RNF worked with the 7th throughout the operation. The acting OC Capt Hodgart received a message of congratulations on the performance of the ‘Shiny 7’, from 8th Army Commander. When he came to write his dispatches for the Campaign Field Marshal Alexander commented on the efforts needed to build a bridge in the 4th Division sector. At least one historian believes Sappers saved the bridgehead.
It is generally agreed that the ‘Amazon’ changed the complexion of the fighting on XIII Corps front, and the Corps Commander considered it was the turning point allowing the battle to move on.
15 May: 2 & 3 Platoons of the Shiny 7th crossed into the bridgehead making and improving tracks from the DMA forward to the Pioppetto. The whole area was shrouded in smoke hiding the work. 16 May: The smoke cleared and the Germans began shelling quite heavily. Snipers were also active. Smoke was requested and supplied by the Pioneers of the 2 Kings. The infantry were hastily digging in expecting a counter attack.
1800 hrs 3 Platoon crossed the Congo into the bridgehead to work on tracks in the forward defensive area where the 7th had been working since the 14th May. The smoke cleared again along with the shelling. Equipment by the scissors bridge was hit and damaged.
3 Platoon were shelled throughout the night, and although there were no casualties, many were quite shaken by the time they returned to Coy HQ the next morning having completed the task.
17/21st Lancer's War Diary 12-14 May 1944
MR. 925164. 12th May.. Stay all day in this position. During the day a shallow bridgehead is established on the north. No bridge to get tanks across was built owing to enemy mortar and small arms fire - 10th Bde on north established a shallow bridgehead at Pt 36’ 0900 hrs. ‘Hardware’ tanks go forward but are unable to get across. 1400 hrs ‘B’ Sqn move round Mt Trocchio and have a shoot on Pt 63. MR 865185. 2000 hrs ‘C’ Sqn move forward. 13th May. MR.868183. 0300 hrs. C’ Sqn arrive at Amazon and Bailey br got into position with the help of a tank as all bulldozers are out of action. 0500 hrs. Amazon built. 0530 hrs. Half of ‘C’ Sqn across river and remainder of Regt moving down to river- A Sqn by the North route, B and RHQ by the South route. 1200 hrs. ‘A’ Sqn across the river and tying up with 2/4 Hamps of 28 Inf Bde for an attack southwards along west bank of river to clear 28 Bde river front. 1400 hrs. ‘C’ Sqn and DCLI attack Pt 63 in Northerly direction to enlarge bridgehead made by Surreys on Pt 36. This attack was successful. 1415 hrs. Rest of Regiment cross Amazon. 1600hrs. DCLI were firm on their posn with C Sqn in support - B Sqn now in posn facing West on the junction between 10th and 28th Inf Bde fronts. 1700 hrs. A Sqn and 2/4 Hampshires across river PIOPPETA and some stiff fighting takes place. This stream was crossed by means of an improvised crossing made by A Sqn at 866179. A Sqn met a minefield to the south of this stream and lost two tanks in it, but managed to circumvent it and support the Inf Bn westwards as far as the lateral road QUEEN STREET. As both the scissors bridge-laying tanks had been knocked out, another bridge had to be improvised on this road by A Sqn to establish lateral communication. MR. 862177. On the Div front and this was done by A Sqn towing the scissor bridge into position. By nightfall the bridgehead was firm as far west as the objective “BROWN”. A Sqn and 2/4 Hampshires had had stiff fighting and killed a large number of enemy on the South, while C Sqn and DCLI had done the same on the North. Night Posns A Sqn South of R.PIOPPETA, the rest of the Regiment at Rd & track Junc 863184.
The Echelon never reached us as 2 ammo lorries of another unit were hit by mortar fire close to the AMAZON Br and nothing could come forward. Casualties. Lt Hon R.C.M.Nathan (sick) Lt J.A.H. Norman and 3 ORs wounded - 2 ORs killed. Tank Stats. Fit 44, 14 bogged, 2 hit. Started day 1 tank short in A Sqn. 14 May. A very misty morning after a rather uncomfortable night. A counter attack was put in on Blue but this was broken up. N.Z. tanks relieve us. Some confusion as to which Div. at last Inf or 78 Div, or which Bde the 26 Amd Bde was working with. 1100 hrs. Counter attack on leading elements of 4th Brit Inf Div, but it was held.
0n the 14th May 19 NZ Armoured Regt took over from the 17/21st lancers who went in support of 5 Bn Northants Regt and 1 Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers.
10 Inf Bde's infantry positions from 13th May - Taken from their War Diaries
1/6 Bn East Surreys - War Diary Report
By the evening of the 13th the “Amazon” bridge had been constructed by the R.E. and tanks were now in support. The battalion A/Tank platoon were also now in position. Owing to various successful attacks by the 2nd Beds and Herts and 2nd D.C.L.I., Coys of the Surreys were able to extend and by the 17th “A” Coy were on Pt. 46. “B” were on 58 and “C” remained on 36. “D” Coy, owing to heavy casualties sustained was split up among the other companies. The whole area was under observation from Monastery Hill, which was visible when not covered in smoke raised by fires from our guns, and Mount Cairo. The battalion went into the attack on the town of Cassino at 0900 hrs on the morning of the 18th. Little opposition was encountered except for thousands of mines and demolitions. By 0945 hrs the forward companies “A” and “B” had captured their objectives. Lt Sloan was killed by a mine and one O.R. was injured, at 0945 hrs Major Maggs M.C. and Lt. Hawkins and two O.R’s were killed by a powerful booby trap which demolished the house they were clearing. Later that day the battalion moved back to an area behind Mt Trocchio and from there proceeded to a concentration area at Alifi. The Gustav Line had been forced, the fortress of Cassino cracked and the road to Rome was open. Meanwhile the battalion rested and indulged in the luxury of baths and beer from NAAFI. The Divisional Commander received the following message from the Comd 13 Corps. Lieut General. S.C. Kirkman:
“Now that Cassino has fallen to your Division I would like to let you know how well I consider you have done. The assault across the Rapido was undoubtably a most formidable undertaking, as the river, so aptly named so swift and deep and the defences well prepared and strong. The over running of the enemies positions was a magnificent effort, the work of your sappers on the second night was first class, and the building of the bridge which allowed you to pass over your tanks was a turning point in the battle. Each subsequent advance that you were asked to do has been quickly and successfully carried out. What has been achieved will long be remembered as a credit to 4 Div.
Those grim three or four days when the battalion desperately held on to Pt. 36 against all a powerful enemy could do to dislodge them really won the battle. Everything hinged on 36. “A” Coy in fact, the right hand Coy of the 8th Army. Had the battalion broken the major plan might have collapsed, but they held and the road to Rome was opened given the Allies that great political victory which heralded the opening of the second front
2nd Bn Beds and Herts Regt War Diary 13-18 May 1944
13 May. Bn posns remain unaltered. Shelling and mortaring still heavy. 2 D.C.L.I. and units 12 Bde pass over bridge built during night and extend bridgehead by approx. 800 yds forwards and to the flanks. Total casualties for day Offrs; 2, O.R’s 11.
862180 14 May. 0700 hrs. Bn HQ (less ‘’D’’ Coy Comdr-Pioneers-RAP-Int Sect) moves to 862180.
863184 14 May.1100 hrs. Meeting between Bde Comdr and Commanding Officer. Bn in Div reserve and to be prepared to counter attack to recover any forward posns lost.
862180 14 May. 1900 hrs. R.A.P. and personnel Bn HQ still by river gain advanced Bn HQ area 862180. 10 In Bde letter - Counter attack role Appx E folio 21. Total casualties for day:- Offrs- nil, O.R’s - 10.
859179 15 May. 0208 hrs. Recce made by C.O. of new Coy areas.
15 May. 0430 hrs. Coys move to new posns as follows:-
Bn HQ. 859179
B, C, D Coys 858179
Day passed without major incident. Total Casualties:- Offrs -1. O.R’s -3.
16 May.1000 hrs. Orders received from 10 Inf Bde to capture:- Pt 50. (853188). Pt 58. (848188) with in SP ‘’C’’ Sqn 19 NZ Regt. Zero to be early morning 17 May 1944.
16 May. 1630 hrs. Operational order from 10 Inf Bde. Attack now to be at 1830 hrs 16 May.
1400 hrs. Outline plan and orders issued to Coy Comdrs and Tps do recces. Bn reorganised as 3 Coys.
1530 hrs. Co-ordinated order Gps and final details
1730 hrs. Coy Comdrs move to S.L.. to complete netting.
1800 hrs. Coys to S.L.
1825 hrs. Bn HQ now estab area Pt.54. 857182.
1830 hrs. Attack launched.
1835 hrs. ‘’D’’ Coy held up by machine gun fire near S.L. “A” Coy making progress.
1850 hrs. Attack by ‘’A’’ Coy making good progress
1950 hrs. “A” Coy Comd:- Major Rayner-wounded. 2i/c now in comd, but wounded. ‘’D’’ Coy posn, confused, but reported wrongly as it later appeared. Still at S.L. and digging in under 2Lt Wiggins. All remaining officers of ‘’A’’ and ‘’D’’ Coys casualties.
2140 hrs. ‘’A’’ Coy on objective and slightly fwd of it. Heavy casualties and one Pl under Sgt Snape at bend of road, at 853191. ‘’D’’ Coy strength approx. 1 offrs and 38 O.R’S. ‘’A’’ Coy: 1 Offr -(wounded) but remaining with Coy to operate 18 set.) and 29 O.R’s, 5 Tanks still in close support ‘’A’’ Coy.
2200hrs. Discovered that small party of ‘’D’’ Coy had reached objective but bulk of Coy had run into heavy fire. Coy Comdr, both Pl Comdrs and Sgt Rillea and after confused battle had withdrawn to S.L. and dug in.
2215 hrs. Coy of 2 Royal Fusiliers at 885185 ordered to move out to carry out another task. ‘’C’’ Coy to move up and take over this area from 2 Royal Fusiliers.
16 May. 2300 hrs. Bn positions as follows: A Coy 859184
B Coy 858182 Bn HQ: 859179
C Coy 857180
D Coy 856180
16 May. 2301 hrs Intelligence officer goes to Pt 50 to relieve Capt Hollick.
17 May. 0020 hrs Intelligence officer arrives at Pt 50. Position there as follows: Capt Hollick (wounded in neck) with 8 or 9 men hold Pt 50 and are dug in along drainage ditch running approx. 853187- 854188. One Pl is at 853191.but out of touch by wireless with Coy commander.
0100 hrs. One Pl of ‘’C’’ Coy moved up and established at Pt 46 - 853186.
0200 hrs. Comd ‘’A’’ Coy asks permission to withdraw psn at 853191 and hold Pt 50 with additional men thus made available.
0250 hrs. Commanding officer with patrol from ‘’C’’ Coy visits forward posns at Pt 50. He authorised withdrawal of posn at 853191. Pt 50 to be held at all costs.
0330 hrs. Enemy tracked vehicles heard moving area road 853194.
0400 hrs. Platoon from 853191 rejoins Coy in area Pt 50, confirms report that enemy tanks are in vicinity and believe are forming up for attack on Pt 50.
0420 hrs. All arrangements for enemy tank attack completed. DF tasks (Arty) arranged. 5 - 19 NZ Armd Regt tanks take up positions.
0530 hrs. All dug in and positions camouflaged.
0600 hrs. Recce patrol from ‘’A’’ Coy report house at 851189 clear. Two P.O.Ws brought in.
0630 hrs. Recce patrol from ‘’A’’ Coy move forward of Coy 852189.
0710 hrs. Patrol returns reporting no sign of enemy.
0900 hrs. 14 Pl under Sgt Penfold, assisted by 1 Tp ‘’C’’ Sqn 19 NZ Armd Regt move fwd to clear area Pt 58 and Pt 49. No opposition encountered.
0945 hrs. ‘’C’’ Coy ordered to Pt 58 and Pt 49.
1100 hrs. ‘’C’’ Coy est as above.
1400 hrs. ‘’C’’ Coy ordered fwd to railway area 851194.
1500 hrs. ‘’C’’ Coy established as above
1500 hrs. The bodies of Lt Howley and 12 O.R’s (2 Beds and Herts Regt) buried at Pt 50 853188.
2100 hrs. Verbal orders sent to ‘’A’’ and ‘’C’’ Coys regarding patrols to be sent out night 17/18 May to stop enemy escape routes out of CASSINO.
2348 hrs. 10 Inf Bde Op inst No 29.
18 May. 0010 hrs - 0035 hrs. Air bombing of our posns by enemy with aid of flares. There were no casualties caused by this bombing.
0036 hrs. Patrol of 2 Pls under Lt D.G. Calvert sets out for 858197 object to cut Route 6.
0120 hrs. Patrol reaches 858197 and ambush set.
0123 hrs. Enemy heard approaching patrol positions along Route 6.
0124 hrs. Fire opened on and leading enemy marching personnel. Range 5 Yds. Enemy scatter to verges of road leaving three wounded on road.
0130 hrs. Enemy reorganise and start and start small attack on patrol posns using sub machine guns and hand grenades. This attack held easily and ‘peters out’. 6 enemy reported killed during this attack and several wounded.
0200 hrs. Lt Calvert with one O.R. armed with T.S.M.G. moves fwd down Route 6 and brings in one enemy wounded and three PWs. Confirms by flare that what appear to be bodies of enemy killed in attack on patrol are lying on rising ground near left of road.
0315 hrs. ‘’C’’ Coy patrol estd astride track at 849198.
0500 hrs. Patrol under Lt Calvert returns bringing 3 P.W. One enemy (badly wounded) left to be collected later.
0600 hrs. Lt Rose with recce patrol reports houses and track - area 849198 clear of enemy.
0630 hrs. ‘’C’’ Coy occupies area above and patrols sent fwd.
0830 hrs. Effective personnel ‘’A’’ ‘’B’’ and ‘’D’’ Coys reorganise as one Company under Capt Stenning and to be known temporarily as ‘’D’’ Coy.
851189. 1230 hrs. Bn assembled area Pt 49
1450 hrs. Burial service for dead buried at 853187
1530 hrs. Burial service for dead buried at 854184.
851189 1830 hrs. March out of Bn for L.U. area Mt Trocchio.
894184 2300 hrs. Bn in Lying Up Area.
2nd Bn D.C.L.I.- War Diary 13-17 May 1944
13 May, 0400 hrs. Warning received from Bde that Bn is to attack northwards, SP by “C” Sqn 17/21 L to Pt. 36. 857189 to expand bridgehead in conjunction with 12 Inf Bde attack. 6 BW cross AMAZON by 0445 hrs and capture BLUE objective on 28 Inf Bde front, and 2 R.F. cross same point 0545 hrs and capture BLUE objective on 10 Inf Bde front each with in SP one Sqn 17/21 L. Bn to be prepared to move 0630 hrs.
0600 hrs. C.O. with I.O. leaves for AMAZON Bridge and tries to contact O.C. “C” Sqn 17/21 L (Major Barbour)
0700 hrs. 16 Pl (Lt ?) “C” Coy relieve 18 Pl in role of protecting AMAZON Bridge. As soon as bridge was over 18 Pl had crossed to positions on far bank and had been subjected to much mortar and small arms fire. Lt Howard Smith was wounded in the hand.
0900 hrs. C.O returned ‘O’ group called for attack on Pt. 36. - “A” Coy right, “B” Coy left, “D” Coy Res. “C” Coy to concentrate and follow on as soon as possible. Mors and MMGs on carriers move up on capture of objective. Anti Tank guns towed by jeeps to relieve tanks on objective as soon as possible. Probable time of start now 1330hrs. Coordinating conference to be held in “The Barracks” 1100 hrs.
1100 hrs. C.O’s coordinating conference in “The Barracks” owing to impossibility, of “D” and “A” Coy breaking out of present positions plan is altered to - “C” Coy right, “B” Coy left, and no reserves.
1150 hrs. Bde report BLUE objectives captured by 12 Inf Bde and order this Bn attack to start as soon as possible. One Coy 6 Surreys is placed under command for assisance and mopping up.
1153 hrs. Bde state our Arty barrage will be as for right flank of original HONKER plan. Dwolls 6 mins on opening line. Rate of advance 100 yds in 3 mins Dwolls 20 mins to cover consolidation.
1155 hrs. Bde informed time of start for Bn attack (W hour) will be 1400 hrs.
1230 hrs. C.O. informed that strength of 6 Surreys Coy under command is only 15-20 men. After discussions with Bde Major it was decided to attack with no reserve but that a second Sqn 17/21 L would be made available later to ensure that area of advance was clear.
1315 hrs. Move off for advance to S.L. Order over AMAZON Bridge, “C” Coy, “B” Coy, Bn HQ. C.O. ahead with I.O. on Sherman tank of O.C. Sqn. Considerable enemy shelling of AMAZON Bridge area and on approaches to S.L. “A” Coy under comd Capt J. T. Holte, and “B” Coy under Comd Major E.P. Banfield were on S.L. on time and formed up as barrage came down. S.L. was right line of track running NE from bend in road 863185 and left continuously of this track SW from this bend in road.
1400 hrs. “C” Coy advanced with 16 Pl right, 17 Pl (Sgt Head) left and 18 Pl in reserve. ”B” Coy advanced with 15 Pl (Lt Grant MM) right, 13 Pl (Lt Leeder) left and 14 Pl in reserve. The advance was made very close to the barrage, all ranks showing very commendable steadiness under the enemy defensive shellfire, which appeared rather heavier on “B” Coys were on their objectives by 1435 hrs and on top of the enemy as they were coming out of their dugouts. The few who attempted resistance were quickly disposed of and both Coys proceeded quickly to consolidate. Tank support was called for during consolidation. Indication of targets by “C” Coy was by pointing and by “B” Coy by way of tracer. Contact with 2 R.F. on left was made by use of one of the tanks SP “B” Coy. Dispositions of the Coys when consolidation was complete were - “C” Coy area H 860191 with Pls in approx. same formation as for the attack: “B” Coy area Pt 36. 857189 with Pls approx. as for the attack. Lt Leeder (13 Pl) was wounded by mortar fire during consolidation. Objectives taken were very well done and presented a strong defensive system. Pt 36 Incl the Bn HQ of Para M.G. Bn, 1 Para Div. The advance of 16 Pl was slower as it required moving through a series of trenches under the brow of an encampment covering the river Gari and dealing with enemy encountered therein. Approximate 100 prisoners of the M.G. Bn of 1 Para Div were taken in this initial attack and several parties were subsequently disconnected or surrounded in caves and dugouts. The success of this attack is decreed to be partly done to the fact that it took the enemy defensives in the rear - though the enemy will know that an attack could only come from that side, but largely to the fact that both Coys were so close to our own barrage that they were on the objective by the time the enemy began to engage and to fight was impossible to him. Bn HQ est in strong point at 864185. Mortar Pl and MMG carriers, and RAP get moved below encampment 70 yds south of Bn HQ. MMGs moved after dark with sec “C” Coy area and sec “B” Coy area. Approx. casualties in this attack were: “B” Coy 20, “C” Coy 7, Bn HQ 2.
1530 hrs (approx.) Bn Anti-Tank guns (5) in position. Capt R.V….? was wounded in the leg by enemy mortar while recceing gun positions in “C” Coy area. Very little enemy mortar fire during consolidation but it began shortly afterwards and was with some intensity in both “C” Coys areas also nebelwerfer fire in area Bn HQ. No enemy counter attack launched against our own or 12 Inf Bde front today. On completion of Bn attack, C.O. sent three tanks to assist “D” Coy overcome enemy in wood 867179 (Square Wood). Tanks shot up wood with H.E. and MG and approx. 20 enemy came out and surrendered. C.O. then gave “D” Coy permission to re- cross river and lie-up in old “D” Coy locality. “A” Coy ordered to move up and join Bn after dark. (“A” Coy cas so far - 19)
2030 hrs. “A” Coy arrive area Bn HQ, dig in and lie - up for night. Recce parties forward to PT 36.
2200 hrs. 10 Inf Bde O.O. No 6 copy No 3 of 13 May received. (orders consolidation and holdings of present positions incl H 859192 and Pt 63). Total P.W. credited to 2 D.C.L.I today is 200 of which 117 were of MG Bn 1 Para Div.
Pt 36. 865185.14 May 0600 hrs. “A” Coy move fwd and join “B” Coy on PT 63, forming two Pls, (11 Pl being split up between 10 & 12), “B” Coy also forming two Pls by splitting by 13 Pl. Lt ? 16 Pl wounded by own sentry by T.M.G.
0630 hrs. Major Barbour reports his Sqn ( C ) being recalled to rejoin his Regt for employment in 26 Armd Bde in sp of 78 Div in an attack towards Route 6 on 82 grid. Sqn of 19 New Zealand Arm’d Regt is taking his place.
0845 hrs. Visit from Comd 10 Inf Bde. Runner from “D” Coy reports Coy gone in old area east of river and asks instructions. C.O. orders Coy to come up after dark.
1000 hrs. Enemy counter attack developing on front of 2 R.F. on our left.
1330 hrs. 2 R.F. ask Bn to assist them with fire on their front. Mortar Pl came into action. Counter attack broken up.
1235 hrs. Major Scottland, Comd “A” Sqn 19 New Zealand Arm’d Regt, which is relieving “C” Sqn 17/21 L, arrive to recce.
1320 hrs. No sign of sp tanks arrv in Bn area. C.O. asks that their arrival be hurried up.
1335 hrs. Bde report Bn has been allotted our A Ech Tpt park just across river for parking of minimum essential vehs for which there is no room fwd. 2i/c Major ? and Capt Edwards (in charge of Bn traffic regulation fwd from fwd cong area) to report traffic control HQ for allotment.
1530 hrs. Tanks of “A” Sqn 19 NZ Amd Regt arrive.
2030 hrs. “D” Coy arrive area Bn HQ and lie- up for night. Recce parties fwd to “C” Coy area. Considerable enemy shelling and mortaring of fwd Coys throughout the day and some shelling of Bn HQ and mortar Pl area. “A” Coy find correspondence in files in Bn HQ of Para MG Bn, which reveals that it was the intention of the German High Command to withdraw 1 Para Div to BOLOGNA area in few days time.
15 May, 0600 hrs. ”D” Coy move fwd into res posn behind “C” Coy.
0930 hrs. Notification from 6 Surreys of est of cemetery on SE slopes of Pt 36.
0950 hrs. “A” Coy report enemy patrol approached their posns in the mist and flung grenade in a “B” Coy trench. Also 3 enemy seen on Pt 55. 854193. Intermittent enemy mortaring of fwd Coys a.m.
1405 hrs. Report from Bde of some enemy infiltration between 2 R.F. and “B” Coy. Not confirmed by “B” Coy, who fired on few enemy seen on MASSA DEVIVO feature 853188.
1545 hrs. 10 Inf Bde admin order No 10 received (details est R.A.S.C. Dump sups & Amn 861177, & water point) together with 10 Inf Bde letter 5/52/AQ of 15 May (detail “A” Ech veh park)
1700 hrs. Bde report enemy counter attack developing against 2 R.F. nothing seen from “B” Coy.
1715 hrs. Two Germans of 721 Jaeger Regt wander into “B” Coy lines bringing up rations!
1915 hrs. C.O. visits “C” Coy for recce with Capt Notley for fighting patrol to be sent to Pt 34. 857196 tonight. Recce prevented by enemy mortar fire and shelling by …. Arty. Bde informed patrol cancelled. Enemy mortaring our fwd Coys heavily from 2000-2100 hrs.
1945 hrs. Visit from Bde I.O & L.O. Report 2 Polcorps is attacking south to Route 6 area tomorrow.
16 May. Visits from Bde Comd 0745 hrs and Div Comd 1000 hrs
1200 hrs. C.O. attends ‘O’ Gp at HQ 2 BEDFS HERTS in connection in an attack by them 1830 hrs on Pt 50. 853188 and Pt 58. 848188
1500 hrs. C.O’s ‘O’ Gp in connection with 2 BEDFS HERTS attack. Mortar Pls 2 D.C.L.I. and 6 Surreys in sp. Sp also by Field Regt, Med Bty and 4.2 mortars of 10 Inf Bde and 19…Bde.
1800 hrs. Harassing fire by mortar Pl begins. Target Pt 55. Very quick retaliation by enemy with hit on mortar posn by a shell. 2 cas. Firing continued. No further reply from enemy.
1900 hrs. O.C. mortar Pl reports task completed and relaid on D.F Tanks. Over 1100 bombs H.E. fired.
2030 hrs. Bde report elements 2 BEDFS HERTS holding Pt 50 and Pt 46. 853186, after expensive two Coy attack.
2100 hrs. Fighting patrols ordered as follows:
“C” Coy Capt Notley, and 12 to Pt 34. 856196
“D” Coy Lt Catwell and 15 to Pt 55. 855194.
Task - to discover if occupied by enemy and the extent of any such occupation. Time out 2359 hrs. Time in 0500 hrs. Routes- direct.
17 May, 0230 hrs. “C” Coy patrol returned. Reports posn occupied is strongpoint. 4 enemy seen leaving. Suspected silhouette of tank seen.
0325 hrs. 3 Germans of 1 Para MG Bn carrying British field propaganda leaflets surrendered to sentry at Bn HQ!
0415 hrs. “D” Coy patrol returned. No enemy seen.
0530 hrs. 7 Germans of 721 Jaeger Regt came in through “B” Coy.
0700 hrs. Orders from Bde Comd for Recce in strength to be made to Pt 55, sp by tanks.
0800 hrs. C.O’s Gp for above operation attended by O.C “D” Coy, (Major Gill) O.C mortar Pl ( Lt Phillips), O.C. MMGs ( Capt Brown) and O,C. Tank Sqn ( Major Scotland)
0915 hrs. Tps in posn for start of operation. Mist has lifted. Bde asked for smoke on lower slopes M. CASSINO. Operation begins. Only opposition encountered is from isolated enemy snipers to right flank and BARONS PALACE 854198. No enemy found on Pt 55, but feature too bare for occupation and C.O decides to withdraw. Bde Comd consents. C.O. calls for 3” mortar smoke to cover withdrawal 1045 hrs and 3” mortar HE on area bridge 853195. Suspected M.G. locality where two enemy were seen.
11.30 hrs, Operation completed. “D” Coy back in posn. C.O. returns 1200 hrs.
1410 hrs. Wireless intercept 12 Inf Bde have crossed ry and that 2 BEDFS HERTS are in process of doing same.
1800 hrs. Warning from Bde of Bde attack into Cassino area tomorrow. Standing patrol one Coy strong to take up posn at Br 853195 by first dark and to remain until recalled, to prevent any attempt by enemy to break out southwards.
1815 hrs. “A” Coy warned to be prepared to move.
1900 hrs. C.O. leaves for Bde for orders for tomorrows attack. Adjutant round Coys with warnings order and orders for “A” Coy to carry out standing patrol as above and for “C” Coy to fwd patrols to Pts 55 and 34 to ensure that they are not re-occupied by enemy
2000 hrs. Removal of mortar bombs (double first line holding of H.E. and first line holding smoke) to new mortar posn in “D” Coy area began. Carrying party from Anti tank Pl, spare men Bn HQ and Pl “D” Coy
About 2100 hrs. Orders were received by 4 Div HQ RE that the 78 Div waiting to exploit the hole made by 4 and 8 Indian Divisions would move into battle the next day, 14th May. Another bridge was required immediately-this bridge was ‘Congo’.
2200 hrs. The OC of 586 Army Coy RE called in at the 7th‘s HQ for information about ‘Congo’. His Coy had been warned of the task to build ‘Congo’. The ‘586’ were now under command of the CRE 4 DIV and they had to build the ‘Congo’ as quickly as possible for the move of 78 DIV into the bridgehead. The order given to them was to build a 100’ TS Class 40 bridge. As much assistance as possible was given to them by the 7th including the help of the HQ Sgt on the site, where work began at once. 14 May Sunday. During the night the enemy sent in aircraft to bomb the bridges over the ‘Rapido’ in an attempt to damage the bridges and halt the traffic. The attacks were not successful. There was no other interference on the ‘Congo’ site. In the early hours the CRE expressed his dissatisfaction with progress, and decided to call on the 7th to do the job, but no mention was made of the change in the Class or length of the bridge.
0500 hrs. The 7th were ordered to take over the site - 1 & 2 Pls were called, washed, fed and moved off in single file to the ‘Congo’ bridge site once again, as they thought might happen.
0625 hrs. The party halted at the copse near King Street where cover was taken in the early hours. An ‘O’ Group was held by the Bridge Commander Lt Hobson and construction parties organised with the same NCO i/c C. The bridge would be built as rapidly as possible as an assault bridge, and no one would go to the far bank until the bridge was far enough across for a Section to move over via the girders. The party were told the bridge was essential for the support of our infantry at the earliest time. Work commenced with a sense of urgency and soon ‘Congo’ bridge was touching down on the far bank. Cpl Smiles, with one of the two combined Sections into which 2 Pl was now formed, cleared an area for the bank seat whilst the bridge was being decked down at the same time. The launching nose was rapidly stripped. Risks were taken in regard to mines on the far bank, but speed was essential, to complete the bridge before morning mist cleared exposing a prime target of some 70 Sappers beavering away in a small area. To cut time further the bridge was pushed off the launching rollers onto a grillage of sleepers, jacked to take the rollers out on the far bank and pushed off the jacks.
0830 hrs. ‘Congo’ a 90’ DS Class 30 bridge was ready for traffic 1 Platoon remained on the bridge as a maintenance party.
Rather than strengthen ‘Congo’ to Class 40 it was decided that ‘Blackwater’ would be Class 40. ‘59’ commenced work at 1700 hrs and completed a 70’ DS Class 40 by 2100 hrs. The opening of the bridge was delayed until 2230 hrs whilst the approaches were made 100%
14 May about 1300 hrs, 2 Platoon now reduced to 1 Sgt - Cpl & L/Cpl, and 22 Sprs were ordered east of the river to the DMA which was set up on Queen Street at Point 33, to sweep the area of the DMA clear of mines. 1 Pl gave them a cheer as they crossed Congo. They passed another RE Company clearing mines. A right turn was made at the Junction with Queen Street at the forward base of the ‘Platform’ to the DMA situated in a flat field beyond the ‘Platform’. An RASC Sgt in charge of the DMA was organising a foxhole as the two Sections each working opposite sides of the field to the other, spread out in a line directed by their section Commanders laying a tracing tape as they prodded down the field of mines. The spindly trees in the area were all shattered and stripped of foliage. The enemy had dug into the reverse slope of the ‘Platform’ at track level (Queen Street), creating large underground rooms, big enough to house a Sapper platoon comfortably and suitably revetted. The barrage could not have touched this kind of lair.
2000 hrs. The work was finished without incident, and it began to rain. Queen Street became a sea of mud
The Terence Cuneo painting immortalising the Amazon Bridge can be seen in the officer's mess, Brompton Barracks, Chatham, Kent
D4 Bulldozer affectionately known as Weary Willy
The M4 Sherman medium tank, was the primary battle tank used by the United States and other Western Allies in World War II, and proved to be a reliable and highly mobile workhorse, despite being outmatched by heavier German tanks late in the war. Thousands were distributed to the Allies, including the British Commonwealth and the Soviet Union via lend lease. It was the second most produced tank after the T-34
28th Inf Bde's Infantry situation from 13 May
2 Bn King's Regt - War Diary 13-15 May 1944
13 May, 0130 hrs. A composite force, “Smeeforce”, under command of 2i/c, 2/ Kings, Major Odling Smee was formed from remnants of Bn and 2 Som LI, to take over Reserve posn in line from 2/4 Hamps on East side of river.
0210 hrs. “Smeeforce” moved from Assembly Area.
0400 hrs. “Smeeforce” took over Reserve posn from 2/4 Hamps. Bn HQ was established at point 886165.
0800 hrs. No news received from forward Coys. Signals endeavoured to establish contact by W/T and D.R. Communications were made with remainder of “D” Coy by W/T.by 1030 hrs.
1630 hrs. CSM of “C” Coy reached Bn HQ bringing sitrep - 6 Offrs & 60 men were digging in on Brown Line with little ammunition, no food or water.
1800 hrs. 2 Prisoners belonging to Para Regt were brought into Bn HQ, they were despatched forthwith to Bde HQ
1830 hrs Remnants of 2/ Kings & 2 Som LI began to return from far side of the river leading batches of prisoners.
14 May, 1250 hrs. O.C. Smeeforce, received instructions that force must be ready to move at 5 minutes notice.
2040 hrs. Force stood down on orders of OC, Major Odling Smee.
15 May, 0955 hrs. Orders received that “Smeeforce” would move back to Assembly area.
1300 hrs. Smeeforce arrived back at Assembly area. News received that Commanding Officer, Lieut-Colonel J.A. Garnons Williams had died from his wounds, on 13th May, on admission to Hospital.
1500 hrs. Working parties were provided for R.E. Burial and Salvage parties sent out.
During the morning of the 13th May, 2/4 HAMPS crossed the river on the front to 10 Inf Bde on the right, and advanced from a flank onto our objective. About 1400 hrs enemy tps started giving themselves up, and “C” and “D” Coys were able to advance with 2/4 HAMPS onto the first objective.
Casualties during the operation included:-
Missing Lieut E.R. THOMAS.
2nd Lt. A. HEAPS
Wounded: Lt-Col J.R.PLATT.
Major H. PLATT
Lieut. T.E.O.O. SCROPE-HOWE
Lieut. D.G. STRICKLAND
2ND Lt. P.A. THICK
Casualties - O.Rs
12 ORs killed, 38 ORs missing, 94 ORs wounded
SMEE-FORCE was ordered to rejoin the remainder of the Bn which was now resting in the original assembly area. The Bn was then lifted in TCVs to a rest area near PIEDMONTE D’ALIFE.
2/4 Hamps Regt War Diary 13-15 May 1944
13 May, 0300 hrs. Relief complete and Bn commences to move over the SP at 874172. SUMMARY OF EVENTS FROM 13 MAY 44: 0500 hrs Guide party arrives at Assembly Area and recce’s route down to AMAZON Br.
0530 hrs. Bn arrives Assembly Area 881193 and prepares to go into action by 0645
0600 hrs Guides TCP route to AMAZON Br (867182) (br still under construction, but passable to inf). Plan is for the Bn to cross the AMAZON br and to mop up QUEEN STREET along BROWN as far as Pt 50 (857165).
0645 hrs. CO arrives at TCP 1 (872191) to find out situation. However, owing to delays by 6 BW and 2 RF and their sp tanks in crossing br, Bn did not start to cross until 1330 hrs.in the interval the guides were caught in intensive mortar and shelling concentrations and one OR (Sigs) was killed.
1330 hrs. Fwd Coys commenced crossing Br in brilliant sunshine and the enemy brought down his usual concentrations of mortars, shells and Nebelwerfers. Cas were, however, light at this point; about 300 yds across the river the men took what cover they could in shell holes and small ditches, while the CO coordinated his plan with 17/21 Lancers (Shermans) and RA Rep. Zero hour was fixed for 1430 hrs preceded by 15 Mins Arty on the first objective. Considerable quantities of enemy HF were put down, but morale was excellent and the men remained unconcerned. Coy Comds walked about encouraging the men.
1415 hrs. Arty barrage commenced.
1430 hrs. Shermans start to go fwd sweeping the low hills with MG fire and firing at every possible strongpoint with their 75 MM guns. Bn went forward in extended line, with fixed bayonets very steadily. Some MGs were inflicting casualties from SQUARE WOOD (866178) but attention of tanks was directed and they were silenced by men of 8 Pl who stormed the position and took 73 POW
1445 hrs. Tanks unable to cross R.PIOPPETA owing to AFV with br eqpt receiving direct hit and blocking way. Bn wades the stream and carries on, with the Shermans directing fire on top of slope for cover, shortly afterwards message comes to CP that enemy are surrendering on the left and soon long lines of POW were seen doubling towards us with arms up. Resistance on right was still strong, however, and D. and B. Coys pressed fwd up the slope nr Pt 33 (862177) mopping up as they went. Enemy resistance was speedily crushed and the C.O. decides to explore further. A and C.Coys on the left in the meantime followed the line of the river, doing extremely useful work and experiencing resistance from snipers in the wheat along the river bank. These were dealt with systematically. The ground here was thickly sown with mines of all descriptions and the RAP following up were unfortunate is setting off an AP mine, which made casualties of the whole party. One SB was killed outright and the MO died subsequently after evacuation. One Pl, A.Coy also received casualties from a mine in this area. Pt 38: 857172, was the next Objective and this was speedily reached, more POW coming in to us in a ceaseless line. With such success in mind, there was no stopping the HAMPSHIRES now, and the C.O., who throughout, was with the fwd troops, decided to push fwd and consolidate on Pt.50 (857165) The objective was taken by B.Coy, who dealt with a determined enemy post in a house on top with grenades and TSMG. Five enemy surrendered here but the sixth coming out of his dugout treacherously shot a man of B.Coy, and was disposed of. Understood afterwards that C.Coy reached Pt 46 at (862162 before withdrawing to consolidate)
1540 hrs. All objectives were now reached, and Coys immediately began task of consolidating. There was still considerable MG fire coming from the SOUTH, but the enemy seemed put off his balance, as it was quite some time before he started mortaring and shelling newly won positions. Having established where we were, however, he quickly brought down some concentrations of Nebelwerfers, which had little effect. D.Coy were unfortunate this time in having their Coy HQ, which was a captured house, collapse on several men, who were dug out very bruised and shaken.
1615 hrs. A patrol of A.Coy was sent out to investigate and hold the houses at PETRACONE (857175) as protection to main body. This was done without incident CP was est on the track at 861172. C.O. visited all coys and instructed Coy Comds to send out patrols to the line of QUEEN STREET during the night. The morale of the men were excellent, and they were even further cheered when it became known that the Bn had now approximately 200 POW to its credit. Enemy HE was now on a reduced scale, although MG fire was still coming from the SOUTH, making movement rather difficult in places. Isolated detachments of 2 KINGS and 2 SOM LI were found at various points, having crossed two nights previously and these were contacted and ordered by the C.O. to return over the river again. A German sniper who had been overlooked near the river bank, and who was causing trouble, was disposed of by a sec of 2 SOM LI on their way back. Coys were now disposed as follows:-
A .Coy (brought up from river) on Pt 38 (857172).
B. Coy (on last obj) on Pt 50 (857165)
C. Coy area 861174. CP at 861172. D. Coy area 861167.
The battlefield was covered with quantities of enemy equipment and quite a number of his dead. Evidences to be seen to the effects of the tremendous barrage in the initial stages of the assault across the GARI. Corpses in various stages of mutilation were near every strongpoint and it was quite apparent that the hun had received a tremendous shaking up, which helped the assault considerably. The actual attack from the time it was launched until the objectives were reached was a perfect example of a set piece attack, with tanks, Arty and infantry cooperating to the nth degree. One would have thought the whole show to have been a carefully rehearsed exercise at a battle school. During Phase 1 the Bn was under comd 12 Inf Bde. During this major attack on three enemy strong posts, the Bn only received 11 wounded casualties.
2100 hrs. 2i/c arrive at CP.
2130 hrs. LO arrives from Bde and tells C.O. that the next role to play is on BLUE line prior to 0530 hrs. This necessitates moving by night with the FUP on QUEEN STREET.
2215 hrs. C.O. holds his ‘O’ Gp at CP and orders and orders are issued for the Bn to adv by compass until general line of rd and tk Junc at 850171 was reached. Orders to move at 0245 hrs. In the interval, men not on duty endeavour to get as much rest as possible before the next adv.
14 May, 0245 hrs
Bn commences to cross the SL. This is to be a silent attack and no arty preparation is laid down. Bn moves in extended order, and tracer bullets are fired down the general axis of adv to Coys in the right direction. Visibility is very poor, with extremely heavy mist reducing it still further. In addition fumes from exploded cordite hang in the valleys, however, direction is maintained admirably and Coys progressed steadily towards BLUE line.
0400 hrs. Bn reports cas. PETRARCONE 857173 is clear of enemy and C.O. orders them to continue.
0440 hrs. CP, which is travelling up the centre of the axis reaches road and tk junc at 850171. Rest of the Bn is not so far fwd, and makes rather slower progress, so that it is not until 0700 hrs that Bn has finally reached all objectives and has consolidated. Very little opposition is encountered right the way up to objectives, the enemy appearing to have straightened his line during the night owing to the threat coming on our right, from 2 RF and 6 BW. In the interval, while the Coys were coming up, the C.O. made a recce in the heavy morning mist down to the bank of the river PIOPPETO, but nothing was encountered except some dead mules, which had apparently been caught in our Arty barrage whilst carrying food and ammunition. Some evidence of the way the enemy had abandoned the position was to be seen in the fact that these things were still on the mules. Some enemy tanks were heard forward at this time, but no threat through this means developed on Bn front, although it was understood afterwards that they did attack 2 RF positions on the right. In consequence A/T Pl was sighted to cover the left rear. At this point all the Coys were grouped along the line of the road from 849168 to 851172. During the early part of the morning the Bn was left alone although our right hand neighbours were receiving a lot of attention with HE. One Tp of tanks were following us up and reached tk junc at 854169. When the comd reported to CP, C.O. ordered tanks fwd to protect left flank.
1000 hrs. Soon became apparent that a determined counter attack was developing on the right neighbour’s front, and also some confused fighting to our left. Nos 3 and 4 Pls were brought fwd, and the mortars laid DF tasks on in front of our posns towards VERTACHI (8417). No: 4 Platoon MGs were able to render valuable assistance to 2 RF by constant fire from the EAST bank of the river PIOPPETA. At the same time enemy was bring down concentrations to counter any move in that direction. By midday the fighting had died down and exchanges were limited to mortar fire and MG fire from own tanks which had est themselves on the left flank.
1215 hrs. Bn reverts to comd 28 Inf Bde. PHASE III
1400 hrs. Brig Comd 28 Bde Inf Bde visits Bn and orders C.O. to attack Pt 73 (VERTACHI) in the early evening. This will take the Bn on the RED line, which is the third objective of 4 Div. Brig and C.O. visit front OP and decide to cross the PIOTTETA in a frontal assault, each Coy to have a troop of tanks in SP (19 NZ Armd). The attack to be proceeded by 15 mins concentration of Artillery.
1600 hrs. C.O. holds ‘O’ Gp at Bn HQ, which has been est in a house at 853170 and outlines plan. Detachments of 28 Inf Bde Sp Gp, which had been under command since OP started are also given orders. Casualties up to this stage were approx. (K/A, W/A and Missing).
1745 hrs. Barrage commences (attack of 78 Div from line of VERTACHI was scheduled to start at 1830 hrs).Coys move fwd. Pioneers rush a carrier laden with light bridging eqpt downhill to PIOPPETTA so that tanks can cross.
1807 hrs. Coys run into heavy barrage, and sustain heavy cas Tanks are unable to cross the river owing to br sinking in very soft mud on the banks.
1810 hrs. Coys move onwards over the river, led by C.O., who had till then had his CP in a tank. The enemy opposition at this point was heavy. All manner of enemy Arty firing concentrations amongst the adv Tps. The men pressed fwd steadily, however. D.Coy was without Comd, Capt Dent having been wounded in the early stages.
1830 hrs. Message from C.O that obj had been reached but Bn were very light on the ground. The enemy appeared to have left hurriedly, and he was machine- gunning Pt 73 quite heavily from the WEST.
1900 hrs. Three secs MMGs were rushed up on carriers and a sec attached to A, B and C.Coys for close sp. At this stage, the adjt was severely wounded. Capt E.T.G. Horne Appt adjt wef 14 May. (as B.Coy took the slopes on the left flank the Coy Comd- Capt. R. Wakeford - was wounded, but he insisted on pushing on to the final objt where he was wounded again).
1910 hrs. A composite Coy was formed from the remnants from B and C.Coys and consolidated near house in area 841173. A.Coy more intact, held Pt 73 along with CP. Some men who had surged over onto fwd slopes of Pt 73 were withdrawn to make a firmer base.
1915 hrs. Three tanks which had managed to cross the river and who had been assisting with MG fire, now came up and posn more secure. An expected counter-attack did not materialise, and night saw the remainder of the Bn licking its wounds and waiting grimly for the next move.
2045 hrs. C.O. moved CP to the reverse slope of Pt 73, and the three Shermans were withdrawn to a harbour in CP area.
2130 hrs. SBs and jeeps started to arrive and collect wounded (cas during this attack were approx. 150 K/A. W/A and Missing). The night of 14/15 was uneventful, except for plenty of MG fire from the WEST. Patrols were pushed fwd onto the reverse slopes, but had little to report. The 2i/c arrived at CP late in the evening. The next day found the Bn consolidated in the same posns with units of 78 Div, pushing fwd on each flank towards GREEN line. 21 ORs arrive as Rfts at ‘B’ Ech.
with units of 78 Div, pushing fwd on each flank towards GREEN line. 21 ORs arrive as Rfts at ‘B’ Ech.
15 May, 0800 hrs. The day’s rations arrived and breakfast was cooked. The posns were fairly quiet during the morning, so a system of reliefs was organised so that rest could be obtained. In the afternoon, however, the enemy appears to have spotted some undue movement of recce parties of 78 Div in our fwd psns, consequently he brought a bty of sp 88 mm to bear on the reverse slopes of pt 73 ( approx.40 shells in the first instance).
1825 hrs. SP guns again opened fire and this time the C.O. was wounded by shrapnel, in the left thigh. He was evacuated and Comd fell to Major Morgan, senior officer present.
2120 hrs. Orders for withdrawal were received from 28 IB and guides were sent out to guide Bn out of the line. Route back was by way of the newly constructed BLACKWATER BRIDGE for marching Inf and via AMAZON br for vehicles.
Right: Approaches to Congo and Blackwater Bridge sites. For two weeks prior to the river assault crossings, 'Operation Honker', the 4th Division Sappers traveled up from Mignano each evening to prepare the approaches, assembly areas, stores dumps and clear areas of any possible mines. 59 and 225 Field Companies worked on 10th Bde sector, the northern route around Monte Trocchio named Amber route, and 7 Field Company worked on the 28th Bde sector, the southern approaches from Monte Trocchio named Purple route. 7 Fd Coy were also tasked to clear the remaining railway (Speedy Express)from the southern tip of Mt Trocchio to the level crossing above the Amazon Bridge site of damaged tracks, craters, mines and booby traps so that it could be used as a road. All this work had to be done stealthily so as not to alert the enemy.
By the evening of 13th May, 461 P.O.W. were in 4 Div's P.O.W. Cage with further groups still on the west side of the river.
Each RE Field Company had a detachment of 2 RNF to assist with the Amazon Bridge construction and a Platoon of Italian Pioneers to assist with the preparation of the bridge site approaches
Right: Sketch map taken from a German POW showing the layout of enemy defences in the area west of R.GARI immediately prior to the assault crossing by 10 Inf Bde
Blackwater Bridge. Second attempt 14th May. No 2 Platoon, 59 Fd Coy commenced building Blackwater bridge at 1700 hrs. The start time was delayed owing to the bridging lorries being held up in the traffic. The bridge was upgraded to a class 40 and built in 2.1/2 hrs but the opening was delayed due to a lot of work required on the approaches and exit. The bridge was finaly opened at 2230 hrs.
Above: Sketch map of the tasks to be done to the approaches to the river crossing sites. Taken from 4 Div HQ RE War Diary April 1944.
First Attempt to Build 'Congo' Bridge
National Archives - Unit War Diaries
of all the units concerned - (31 War Diaries)
The Fourth Division 1939 to 1945 Hugh Williamson
A History of The 7th Field Company RE 1939-1946
Above; Mt Trocchio and view of approaches to the bridge sites
Below: The Liri Valley battlefield up to the 18/19 May
Congo Bridge second attempt completed on 14 May
Used at Cassino
Maximum range of this weapon
was 2800 meters (about 1.74 miles)
Left: 7 Field Company Lying up Area 10 May 1944
Right: Three members of 7 HQ & Sp Sqn RE visit the site 2015
0445 hrs. The bridge was in position. Lt Mark Wayne commanding the leading tank of the 17/21 Lancers, inspected the far ramp of the bridge before crossing. The tanks started crossing about 0500 hours.
By 0530 hours 'C'' Sqaudron, 17/21 Lancers were in a defensive position in the area of Point 36.
May 2015, 7 Coy's Otterhound Camp Site
View from the banks of the river Volturno looking toward the bivouac area where 2 & 3 platoons were located on intensive bridging training 4-9 May 1944
Bridging training area at Vairano and Pietravairano
13 April 1944. Elements of 7 Field Company moved to the Otter Hound Bridge Camp while some elements were still "in line" supporting 28 Bde. By the 19 April, all of the Company was at Otterhound. While the Company was here, a Platoon at a time would go to Greyhound Bridge Camp for rafting training. The Company also trained 28 Bde's infantry at the Greyhound site in assault river crossing and watermanship.
19 April. 7 Field Company RE concentrated on training with Bailey Bridge and FBE, the equipment was handled so much it was an automatic reflex to use any part of it. 23 April Sunday. Company HQ was set up at Mignano and Shiny 7 spent the next few days on intensive bridging, whilst Major Low and Lt Roberts led small parties on recces of the ‘Rapido’ to select a site for ‘Congo’. Major Low made several attempts to cross with a line until finally Sgt F Clark a very powerful swimmer swam across with the line to measure the gap, and recce the far bank. At this time the enemy had positions on both sides of the river, usually, the patrols melted into the darkness and were very silent moving about and therefore as a precaution some sappers left their identity discs outside their uniform to indicate that they were British troops.
The C.R.E. identified 4 areas on the River Volturno for the 4th Division’s river assault crossing training and gave them names:
OTTERHOUND - This training camp was where the three Field Companies did their FBE and Bailey bridging
GREYHOUND - was 28 Inf Bde’s infantry rafting and watermanship training camp. Platoons from 7 Coy gave instruction. Platoons from 225 Coy gave instruction to 10 Inf Bde’s infantry.
FOXHOUND - was 12 Inf Bde’s infantry rafting and watermanship training camp. 59 Coy gave instruction.
BASSETT- 59 Coy ran infantry assault river crossing training
26 April Wednesday. The main body of the 7th moved to Mignano, in the pouring rain, camp was set up and though the location was within shell range no shells fell on it. The location lay on the north side of Route 6 where the railway ran on the opposite side of route 6. Recces were completed for the clearance of mined areas to be used by 28 Bde. Tracks, roads and ‘Speedway Express’ were noted as tasks for the period of preparation. Mines to be cleared were A/T Tellermines and the ‘Holz’, a wooden mine, A/P mine ‘Schu’, the detectors could not pick up the wooden mines. It was necessary to use either bayonets or prodders manufactured by 18 Fd Coy. Very few people had seen wooden mines before arriving in Italy. The 7th was lucky to have so much minefield experience. To give some idea of the extent of mining in the Cassino area, after capturing Cassino 500,000 mines were lifted in the town area alone by the Cassino task force.
2015 tour group walking down from 7 Coy's Otterhound camp site
Click the link for page two
Videos available on YouTube covering the 4th (br) Division's assault on the Gustav Line in the Liri valley,Cassino, May 1944
Operation Honker Part 1 of 2. 2300 hours 11 May 1944