Report by J.C.Manners
REPORT ON THE CROSSING OF THE RIVER GARIGLIANO.
Map. Ref.ITALY Sheet 171.1.NW 1/25,000.
For this operation 40 R.M. Commando was under command 56 Div., and was divided into two forces, one consisting of B and Q troops under 169 Bde. and the other consisting of A. P. and X troops under 167 Bde.
The objects of these two forces were to move closely in rear of the assaulting battalions and when the infantry Bns. had taken their initial objectives these forces were to pass through and further high ground in rear of the position and to harass the enemy's comunications.
Force 1 (B and Q Tps.)
Strength of force five officers 126 O.Rs, plus one F.O.O. and 9 O.Rs. attached.
The force left the forming up position at 1830 hrs on the night 17/18th January and crossed the start line at 2030 hrs. in order for the river crossing. The approach to, and the crossing of the river at 838985 was uneventful and the force first came under fire when it had cleared the far bank, from an M.G. position, also a slight mortar fire was encountered. The white tape was followed, leading through the mine fields but it suddenly stopped at the edge of an orchard. On pushing on and skirting the orchard the leading man was blown up by a mine, it was then decided to skirt the orchard and see round to the left until we received another casualty by a mine. At this time the situation was very obscure as there was still a great deal of fighting on the first heights and the orders were to proceed to the force objective when the first heights had been taken. At any rate it was decided to reach the road which was done with only one casualty. On reaching the road fire came down from the first heights 885993 and it was decided to put in an attack. The attack was successful knocking out one machine gun and taking two prisoners and then contact was made with the C.O. of 2/6 Queens, the leading infantry Bn. As it was then 0500 hrs and it was impossible to reach the objective before dawn it was suggested to hold the positions that had been taken and the force remained there throughout the day. At 0200 hrs on the morning of the 19th orders were received to carry on to the original objective 895015 and also if possible Pt.320 890023. The foot of the original objective was reached and it was decided to push straight on to Pt.320 sending a patrol ander Lieut. Hill to the original objective. Pt.320 was found to be unoccupied but the patrol encountered a M.G. post which was knocked out.
The position on Pt.320 was organised just before dawn and about 0800 hrs some Germans were sighted coming down from Pt.321 (895005). These were engaged with Bren guns causing casualties and breaking up their formation. The rest of the morning and early afternoon no more enemy were sighted, but intense shelling and mortar fire was encountered with in addition, a M.G. firing from the direction of M. TURTITO (870020) which killed one and wounded two others. At 1700 hrs a patrol was sent out under C.S.M. Hawkins into the valley DI SUJO. The patrol surprised a party of Germans, 12 in number, who they took prisoner and brought back. The patrol leader said he knew where there were some more Germans and on being sent out again brought in 18 prisoners. A patrol was then asked for to be sent to contact the ration party at the village (885008). The patrol left at 0200 hrs 20th January under Lieut. Hill but did not contact the ration party, they returned at 0600 hrs. with two prisoners. At 0700 hrs another patrol under Sgt. Ainsworth contacted the ration party and in addition took 6 prisoners. On the return journey this party surprised a small force of Germans and took a further 6 prisoners. The ration party arrived at the position, left the rations, and took away casualties and prisoners. The force was again subjected to shelling and mortar fire but luckily received no further casualties. At 0200 hrs another patrol was sent out under Lieut. Neale to recce, a small valley (884020). The patrol encountered a strong machine gun position and received one casualty. The patrol returned and gave the position of the M.G. to the F.O.O. who had a very successful shoot knocking it out.
At 1800 hrs orders were received that the force would be relieved at 2300 hrs by one company of K.O.Y.L.I. but they did not arrive until 0930 hrs, 21st January. After they had taken over the position the force returned into Bde. reserve at 877990 arriving at 1400 hrs. A counter attack role was given should the situation become critical but was not used. Continous mortaring went on and on the morning of the 23rd suffered three casualties. At 1600 hrs orders were received to proceed into reserve at S.AGATA (9491).
Prisoners taken during the operation numbered 46, ten of the enemy were killed with ten others probably killed.
Our own casualties were one killed, 10 wounded, 5 missing.
For 2 (A.P, and X troops).
The day of 17th January was spent in the lying up area until 2015 hrs when the area was left and the River Garigliano crossed in rear of the 8th Royal Fusiliers. The crossing was made under spandau and mortar fire at 858969 and a slow advance was made to area 845978 where the rest of the night was spent. A. troop and 1 platoon of P. were sent to ring contour 279 to contain that feature and to deal with machine gun fire from opposite spur. X. troop was held in reserve in area Cemetery and 1 platoon of P. troop made its way onto the SALVATITO feature with orders to clear enemy opposition and take up a position on the forward slope at the eastern end of the feature. By daylight A troop had contacted a company of the 8 R.F. on ring contour 279 and the situation appeared to be quite stable. During the night number 6 platoon of P. troop had contacted the ememy in several places and had cleared them off most of the Salvatito feature, (this was the initial objective of the leading infantry Bn.). At 0800 hrs 18th 6 platoon Comdr. (Lieut. Smith) put in an attack on a position consisting of about 16 Germans, Who after a sharp engagement withdrew suffering 8 killed and several wounded, our own casualties being Lieut. Smith wounded, 1 Cpl. killed, and 2 O.Rs wounded. At 1000 hrs a patrol of X troop under Cpl. Borton were sent to deal with a spandau position 844980, resulting in 1 enemy killed and 7 P.O.W. Our own Patrol suffered no casualties. About 1100 hrs A. troop was ordered to Pt.411 to reinforce the 8 R.F. position. All positions were heavily mortared throughout the day and in the evening a further patrol was sent out under Capt. Marshall. The intentions of this patrol was to go through the enemy positions and to get on the high ground of ROTONDO and await the advance of the infantry.
The force consisted of X. troop, A. troop and 1 platoon of P. troop, and the plan was to split up and move off at half an hour intervals and join up again at ROTONDO, where it was to contain the feature, cut the road, destroy and harass the enemy in the vicinity until relieved by the infantry. The going was very hard and finding one's way was very difficult. Apart from hearing German voices in the distance, no contact was made with the enemy. On reaching the low ground at Pt.820003 a German sentry was seen guarding what appeared to be a barracks, it was by-passed. At this time owing to the darkness, the force had become split up and the men badly needed a rest, ao it was decided to lie up for a short period in the area 826003. Here 2 Italians were brought in who gave us very useful information as to the strength and dispositions of the Germans. The strength of the force was 2 Officers, 1 TSM and 10 0.Rs.
Daylight arrived and it was obvious that the attack by the infantry had not materialised, and as it was impossible for such a small force to hold ROTONDO we turned ourselves into Guerillas and proceeded to act as such. Several telephone lines were cut and M/C combinations were knocked out, the occupants being killed. One amoured car appeared which was fired upon, but it continued on in the direction of CASTLEFORTE and was lost to view, German voices were heard to the right of our position and on investigation it was found to be a gun emplacement. A sharp engagement followed and a great deal of 'Pepper Potting', the site was captured, containing 2 field guns which had already been prepared for demolition. These were destroyed. A quick reconnaisance was made and an assortment of motor cycles, staff cars, and 2 armoured cars were discovered at the side of the road. The position was attacked and owing to to the closeness of the country, the enemy's fire was not accurate and only one casualty was sustained, the armoured car put up a stiff resistance but was eventually knocked out by a 77 grenade, one German being killed and one wounded. A Red Cross armoured car got away during the attack but was manned by machine guns which opened fire at our troops, although we were unable to reply.
A road block was being constructed when the first thing that came along was a Mk.iv Tank, this was engaged with 77 grenades which set the tank alight and although not knocking it out, the tank made away in the opposite direction.
By this time 3 more Mk iv Tanks had arrived and they opened up on the rest of the party at point blank range, the patrol receiving 2 casualties. A German Officer alighted from one of the tanks and in perfect english said, "Come here, I have orders for you," to which the reply was a burst of L.M.G. fire.
By this time the Germans were far more numerous and with their tanks had a greater fire power, and the force under Capt. Marshall made its way into a gulley. It was also ascertained that ammunition was getting very short, the force commander decided to return. After concealing themselves during daylight hours, our own lines were reached by about dawn having passed through one of our own artillery concentrations. Thus ended a very useful patrol which did a considerable amount of damage.
After the return of the patrol at 1100 hrs 20th January the force moved up to area 839993 to assist the Ox. and Bucks. in their defensive position. At approx. 1545 hrs. 12 men under Lieut. Atkinson attacked a spandau position at 839994. The attack was met with heavy fire including grenades and 4 casualties were sustained, the position being held by approx. a company. One spandau was silenced but the patrol had to withdraw owing to the difficulty of the ground and the heavy fire. Shortly after this and enemy counter attack resulted in the withdrawal of the Ox. and Bucks about 200 yards. No further action took place until 0300 hrs on the 21st when the Ox. and Bucks and the Commando were relieved by a Bn. of the Royal Berkshires. During the period of the occupation of the DAMIANO feature, 5 platoon of P. troop had been on the forward slopes with the F.O.O. and had been responsible for directing several salvoes into the enemy positions with resultant casualties.
The force returned to area 851975 and at dusk took up a defensive position in conjunction with 8 R.F. covering the ground down to the river. Heavy shelling during the night resulted in 3 casualties but attempts at infiltration by the enemy were driven off. The following day, Saturday 22nd Jan. heavy shelling continued 3 more casualties being sustained. At 1900 hrs on 22nd A.troop was sent to reinforce 8 R.F. in the area LORENZO. At midnight a patrol was ordered to recce. the area of a Wadi 857989 to find out the enemy were forming up for a night attack. Capt. O'Brien, the patrol commander, returned at 0230 hrs and gave the information that apart from a patrol of 8 germans the enemy were inactive in that area. Just previous to the appearance of the enemy patrol Capt. O'Brien's patrol had set off an S mine booby trap resulting in 8 casualties, Capt. O'Brien himself was badly wounded when he brought back this information. During the next day, active patrolling took place in order to find out whether the area was clear of enemy which was confirmed.
At approx. 1900 hrs on the 23rd Jan. the force returned to S. AGATA where together with force one, the Commando was placed in Corp. reserve.
The Commando moved from bivouac area at S.AGAGTA 2030 hrs on 29th Jan. to be placed under command 167 Bde. 56 Div. after a five day rest. At 2100 hrs 30th Jan, the unit arrived at LORENZO 848984 and took over the 5 Hampshires position in the village, remaining until the evening of the 1st Feb. At 1800 hrs on that day, the Commando moved into area 806977 relieving 9 R.F. and remained in position until 7th Feb. In this position the Commando was merely in a counter attack role. At 1600 hrs 7th Feb. the 2/7 Queens took over our position and the unit moved into Div. reserve. At 1700 hrs 11th Feb. the Commando once again took up position in the LORENZO area relieving the 44 Recce. and coming under command 13th Bde. 5 Div. The Commando was now defending the right flank of 5 Div. and were disposed as follows :-
P and Q Troops area 847984
A and X Troops area 849984
B and M.M.G. s area 855979
Mortar Det, area 848983
Commando H. Q. area 848980 These positions were occupied until the 21st Feb.
During this time extensive patrolling was carried out inflicting a certain amount of casualties to the enemy situated in the town of CASTLEFORTE. The village of LORENZO was shelled excessively during the period and a certain amount of casualties were sustained.
Own casualties: 12 killed, 3 missing, 65 wounded.