ATTACK BY 2nd BATTALION ROYAL SCOTS FUSILIERS ON MONTE ARGENTO ON THE NIGHT OF 17 JANUARY 1944
As part of XIII (BR) Corps, 5 BR Inf Div had crossed the Straits of Messina from Sicily on Op BAYTOWN on 3 Sep 43 and moved up southern Italy to join up with Fifth Army that had landed at Salerno on 9 Sep 43. The two Armies linked up on 18 Sep 43. After a period in the Abruzzi and Molise Mountains, the Div was transferred to the Adriatic in time for Christmas 43.
On 2 Jan 44, X (BR) Corps joined Fifth Army and on 3 Jan 44, 7 CHESHIRE were relieved by New Zealanders and, over four days through rain, snow and bitter winds, moved secretly to Cancello just south of the River Volturno. Here, intensive river crossing training started in the handling of collapsible boats by day and night, and comds moved forward to recce the Garigliano from viewpoints on Massico Ridge.
Whilst the troops were training, 5 BR Inf Div was transferred to X (BR) Corps and allotted the difficult task of forcing crossing the Garigliano with the express intention of drawing Kesselring's mobile reserves away from Anzio.
The Regimental History of 6 SEAFORTH reported that:
"The weather had turned surprisingly warm by day and the Battalion was very near the seashore, the weeks spent there were very pleasant."
The first assault was to be made by X (BR) Corps on 17 Jan 44 and the operation was called Op PANTHER. The Corps was to force a crossing of the Garigliano between Monte Castelluccia on their right and the sea on their left – to be followed two days later on 19 Jan 44 by a further assault by 46 BR Inf Div on their right at Sant Ambrogio. The X (BR) Corps task was a significant challenge given that the Garigliano was completely dominated by Germans to the north with two Bdes from 94 Inf Div holding the high ground around Minturno and Castelforte.
The flat coastal plain, semi-circular in shape, was eight miles across and ran inland for five miles. The south western edge of the plain was bordered by a range of mountains rising to 2,600ft and any movement forward of these mountains came under immediate German observation from the Tremensuoli-Minturno-Tufo Ridge which rose steeply to 500ft and, beyond that, Monte Petrella at 5,000ft dominated the area. The Germans had sited their defence according to their usual practice, with outposts on the plain and main defences on the heights at the entrance to the Ausente valley.
Then, when X (BR) Corps had been committed, the next part of the Fifth Army plan was that the main central thrust by II (US) Corps would commence on 20 Jan 44 with an assault across the Rapido river 5 miles downstream of Cassino. Simultaneously, the French Expeditionary Corps would continue the right hook move that it had started on 12 Jan 44 towards Monte Cairo, the hinge to the Gustav Line.
X (BR) Corps's plan was to cross on a four Bde front and establish a Corps bridgehead seven miles deep. 56 BR Inf Div was to focus on Castelforte and Monte Damiano and 5 BR Inf Div on Tremensuoli, Minturno and Tufo with the River Ausente as the inter-Div boundary. Once the bridgehead had been secured, 5 BR Inf Div was to swing north on the Minturno-Ausonia-San Giorgio road to reach the Liri valley. It was expected to reach Ausonia by the afternoon of D plus 1 – the afternoon of 18 Jan 44.
5 BR Inf Div had 201 Gds Bde under comd and 40 RTR was divided between both Divs. 40 Cdo RM were under comd 56 BR Inf Div with the specific task of tackling Monte Damiano.
Here on the coast, 5 BR Inf Div were to land round the river mouth, with two Bdes up, cross where Route 7 and the Rome-Naples railway cross the Garigliano, capture Minturno and Tufo and then use their other two Bdes to exploit up the Ausente valley to secure the San Giorgio defile that would gets troops into the Liri valley. 56 BR Inf Div's objective was the capture of the stronghold of Castelforte on the right of 5 BR Inf Div and secure Monte Damiano – the high ground that overlooked the road that ran up the Ausente valley to Ausonia. 46 BR Inf Div's objective was to cross the river on either side of Sant Ambrogio and be in a position to screen II (US) Corps' attack on the lower Rapido, which was to begin on 20 Jan 44.
For the X (BR) Corps assault, all arty was to be focussed on 56 BR Inf Div with 5 BR Inf Div making a silent crossing.
The 5 BR Inf Div assault was to be in phases. Phase 1 was to be an assault river crossing by 13 Inf Bde on the right and 17 Inf Bde on the left in order to seize Tremensuoli, Minturno and Tufo. Phase 2 was to be 201 Gds Bde and 15 Inf Bde passing through. On the left, 201 Gds Bde would push on to the Scauri feature whilst, on the right, 15 Inf Bde would advance up the Ausente valley to secure Santa Maria Infanta and the Bracchi feature.
With each Bde, the operation was further subdivided into two main phases. Phase 1 was to be a two Bn river crossing to secure the far bank – equivalent to 800 men in eight Rifle Coys, and Phase 2 was a follow through by the third Bn to the capture the Tremensuoli-Minturno-Tufo feature.
Clark did not believe there was much chance of an early breakthrough, but he felt that the attacks on 17 Jan 44 would draw German reserves away from the Rome area in time for the attack on Anzio where VI (US) Corps were due to make an amphibious landing on 22 Jan 44. It was hoped that the Anzio landing, with the benefit of surprise and a rapid move inland to the Alban Hills, which command both Routes 6 and 7, would so threaten the Gustav defenders' rear and supply lines that it might just unsettle the German comds and cause them to withdraw from the Gustav Line to positions north of Rome. Whilst this would have been consistent with the German tactics of the previous three months, Allied intelligence had not understood that the strategy of a fighting retreat had been for the sole purpose of providing time to prepare the Gustav Line where the Germans intended to stand absolutely firm south of Rome. The intelligence assessment of Allied prospects was therefore over-optimistic.
For their attack, X (BR) Corps decided to use 14 rafts in the early crossings, including two strong enough for tanks. Sappers had plenty of bridging equipment but they would not try to install any of it until the German arty OPs had beencleared off the bridge sites. They had to use the existing road approaches to the river because winter flooding had made the fields on both sides too soft to carry a large number of military vehicles in wet weather, and these roads were certainly registered by German guns.
All the early parts of the operation went well. Assembly of arty, and the vast quantity of ammunition needed, and the elimination of German outposts without alarming the Germans themselves, all were accomplished, using Route 7: the one good road.
On 16-17 Jan 44, Allied aircraft bombed 94 Inf Div positions and they were supported by two cruisers and five destroyers firing from off shore. Kesselring wondered if anything was going on but Vietinghoff was unworried.
X (BR) Corps’ attack started at 2100 on 17 Jan 44 and 94 Inf Div were taken by surprise.
On the left, within 17 Inf Bde, starting at 2100 on 17 Jan 44, the intention was that 2 RSF would conduct a sea landing using DUWKs and LCTs 2,000yds north of the river mouth whilst 2 SEAFORTHS crossed by assault boats near Pontefiume. Once across, they would jointly attack Minturno. The intention was then that 2 NORTHANTS, as the Bde Reserve, would then pass through 2 SEAFORTHS and then turn left to attack Tremensuoli. They were to be accompanied by a Naval Gunfire Control Officer who had access to the fire of one of the cruisers and were to have tanks from 40 RTR in support. Attached to 2 RSF would be B Coy of 6 SEAFORTH who had the task of clearing the north bank to help on its own Bn by rolling up the German flank of their defences on the far bank of the Garigliano.
On the right, 13 Inf Bde, starting at the same time, would use two crossing sites: 2 WILTS crossing 1,400yds upstream of the lower railway bridge and 2 RIF crossing 1,400yds south of the upper railway bridge. Once across and secure, 2 CAMERONIANS were to pass through and aim for Tufo. Phase 1 was to start at 2100 and Phase 2: the passing through of 2 CAMERONIANS, at 0330.
Within 7 CHESHIRE, A Coy was allocated to 17 Inf Bde, B Coy to 13 Inf Bde, C Coy to 201 Gds Bde and D Coy to 15 Inf Bde in Div reserve. 7 CHESHIRE was organised with a BHQ, a MMG Coy of three Pls, an Anti-Aircraft Coy of four Pls and a Mortar Coy of two Pls. MMG Coy had 12 Vickers MMGs – four per Pl which moved in carriers. AA Coy had 16 20mm Oerlikon quick-firing guns each pulled by a 15cwt truck. Mor Coy eight 4.2” barrels – four per Pl and each carried in a 15cwt truck.
The 2 RSF DUKWs were brought forward to Sorbello on 16 Jan 44 and the Bn, with the whole of A Coy 7 CHESHIRE attached, moved off at 1700 to embarkation points just north of Mondragone, every man provided with free biscuits from the Church Army canteen. Mondragone was seven and a half miles south of the mouth of the Garigliano. The intention was to land on the north bank of the Garigliano halfway between the estuary and Monte d’Argento: the feature being a prominent mound that dominated the whole of the 17 Inf Bde front.
At 1900, the leading waves of A and B Coys entered the water and they began their 150 min journey, as did B Coy 6 SEAFORTH and A Coy 7 CHESHIRE, followed 30 min later by BHQ, C Coy and D Coy. The landings were to be made in three waves at two points about 200yds apart. B Coy were to seize and hold Monte d’Argento, A Coy was to push inland and cut Route 7 and C and D Coys were then to pass through them to RV with 6 SEAFORTH approaching from the east in readiness for a subsequent 17 Inf Bde attack on Minturno. B Coy 6 SEAFORTH would land with A Coy and clear the area of the immediate north bank in order to help the rest of their Bn.
In the first wave, on the left and more northerly of the beaches, a red guide light was to be set up by a Pl from B Coy when it landed there in the first wave at 2100. A Pl from A Coy was to do the same on the right hand beach whilst another Pl from A Coy was to advance inland and guard a railway bridge beyond Route 7.
In the second wave and 30 mins after the first wave, was the rest of B Coy landing on the left of the beach with the task of overpowering the defences of Monte d'Argento and securing the LD for the subsequent C and D Coy advance to meet up with 6 SEAFORTH. A Coy 7 CHESHIRE would then use their heavy wpns to consolidate on the Monte d'Argento feature once it had been captured by 2 RSF.
The remainder of A Coy 2 RSF was to land on the right of the beach, cut Route 7 at that point, meet up with C Coy, D Coy and BHQ coming in behind them in the third wave at 2200, move inland and link up with 6 SEAFORTH.
At 0300 on 18 Jan 44, assuming that the landings went as planned, 6 SEAFORTH and 2 RSF were to change direction and join forces in a Bde attack on Monte del Duca (Point 141) to the left of Minturno before moving on to Monte Natale (Point 156). 2 NORTHANTS would come in behind the two Bns and attack Tremensuoli at which point 201 Gds Bde would take the lead and push on to Monte Scauri.
So how did the 17 Inf Bde plan unfold?
Well, the 2 RSF War Diary records:
"The plan for landing the Battalion on the assault beaches completely miscarried and the unit was badly disorganised at the very outset. Many of the drivers went too far from the coast and were consequently unable to make use of the guiding lights set out at intervals along the shore or even see the river mouth, which should have been the surest guide."
Maj Sandilands, Bn 2IC 2 RSF recorded that:
"Until the bombardment opened at 2100 hours, we had little idea where we were. It was apparent by this time that the third wave at any rate was lost."
It was a very dark night and the currents of the fast moving river made navigation round the mouth of the estuary extremely difficult. The DUKWs, driven by American troops, failed to land either on time or to put the right Coys in the right places. The phosphorescence of the sea stirred up by the DUWKs, who were no more than 200yds from the shore, drew German arty fire. As a result, 17 Inf Bde's landing was confused and the first to land was a detachment from 141 Fd Amb with a Maj from 2 NORTHANTS and a stores party.
At 2145, A Coy 7 CHESHIRE less 5 Pl, landed by DUKW on the beach just 500yds south of Monte d'Argento, closely followed by 2 RSF. Like 141 Fd Amb, the 2 NORTHANTS Maj and the stores party, A Coy had landed ahead of the infantry that they were supposed to support.
The Cheshire Regimental History gleefully notes that:
"It is probable that this is the only occasion on which machine gunners landed on a hostile beach during the war ahead of the rifle battalions and A Company had every reason to be proud of it."
A Coy Comd, Maj EGS Mather, whilst recceing towards Monte d'Argento at 2200, was injured in a minefield and the Germans responded with heavy MG and mortar fire from the Argento caves and, as a result of this fire, A Coy, and 2 RSF when they arrived, were pinned down. In response, a Pl of A Coy 7 CHESHIRE under Lt Peter Harris took a Vickers MMG forward to within 150yds of the caves. Finding that from this position they could not reach a particular German MG that was sweeping the beach and endangering 2 RSF as they landed, they moved again, dug in and destroyed the German MG at 100yds but could progress no further without support from 2 RSF.
The Cheshire Regimental History describes how, despite his injuries:
"The success of this operation was due largely to the excellent leadership and initiative of Major Mather who, realising that 2 RSF had landed in the wrong side of the river, pressed forward his own attack in the face of overwhelming opposition."
A more serious mishap was the delay in the landing of the sappers who were tasked with clearing pathways through the minefields on the beaches because this immobilised the whole assault. Without cleared pathways, 2 RSF would struggle to get safely off the beach and up to their RV with 6 SEAFORTH. The 2 RSF War Diary records that:
"Not one of the craft carrying the assaulting companies of Royal Engineers found the correct beaches."
To add to their woes, the supporting tanks from 40 RTR and a troop of 17pdr anti-tank guns – a key part og 2 RSF’s ability to break inland and effectively deal with any German armd opposition that they might come across on the way, had been put ashore south of the river mouth and, in the confusion, nearly attacked BHQ 2 NORTHANTS.
Maj Sandilands recorded that:
"As soon as we moved inland, men started going up on mines and we were withdrawn to the beach. It was most uncomfortable; we were penned in on the beach by mines in front and the sea behind and the MGs on Monte d'Argento continued to shoot along the beach spasmodically."
The Colonel took stock of what he had on the beach, which was: C and D Companies; part at least of A Company 7th Cheshires; the RAP, BHQ including the Bty Comd and his party and an RA OP Offr from 76 SP Bty. There was no sign of A and B Companies, nor the Asslt Pioneers nor 42 Fd Coy RE.
In response, and in a change to the original plan, D Coy was ordered to take Monte d'Argento and C Coy was to advance to Route 7 as planned.
C and D Coys moved forward and into minefields immediately losing men. German MGs and 88mm anti-tank guns opened up from Monte d'Argento. Maj PW Batey, the Bty Comd dryly noted that:
"This was not quite according to the book, as there should have been a platoon of B Company sitting on that feature."
D Coy moved along the beach to take Monte d’Argento supported by the entire Div arty and, at the same time, A Coy landed.
Capt Saunders, 2IC D Coy, records that:
"In front of us was a minefield through which we could find no way, while on our left was Argento with the Boche in firm possession and sweeping the beach with Spandaus and shelling it with an unpleasant persistence. Behind us was the sea and on the right, where the Seaforths should have linked up after forcing the river crossing, was nothing but unpleasant Boche noises. There seemed to be no more promising course of action than to crouch in our holes and pray for the arrival of the Sappers."
A Coy, when they did land, hit the beach 600yds south of their intended landing place and immediately headed north along the beach towards Monte d'Argento before moving inland having received orders from CO 2 RSF to attack Monte d'Argento from the north.
What slowed the pace and almost paralysed 2 RSF was the sheer extent and density of the minefields in their AOR. It was thought that, owing to the complete success of a Commando raid in Dec 43 a raid that had overrun Monte d'Argento and swept across the area where 17 Inf Bde's bridgehead was later established, doing much damage and capturing and killing large numbers of Germans, the whole area had been considerably strengthened defensively.
Between the dunes and Route 7, a minefield several hundred yards deep was discovered, strewn with a great variety of anti-personnel mines and booby traps. This minefield stalled 2 RSF's new plan.
It forced D Coy to attack Monte d'Argento along the narrow foreshore under fixed line fire from German MGs concealed in the hollows and caves in the south westerly slopes of Monte d'Argento. The Coy attacked three times and three times it was repelled because mines and MG fire prevented them from widening the frontage of their attack. They suffered enormous casualties.
Whilst all this was going on, the leading Pl of B Coy had landed south of the Garigliano, set up its light system and unfortunately drawn the attention of the SP guns of 78 SP Bty RA who promptly landed. They did not rejoin the Bn until next day. The other B Coy Pl with the same task landed in the right place at 0200 but found that BHQ was doing its own lighting ask. The two other B Coy Pls broke down at sea. Of the four Pls of B Coy, three were missing from the 2 RSF assault.
Meanwhile, keen to get to Route 7 as ordered, C Coy were desperate to get through the minefield and were fortunate to stumble on A Coy at 0100 who had a mine detector.
The detector enabled A Coy, C Coy, BHQ and the single Pl from B Coy to pass through the minefield by dawn and penetrate 1,000yds inland and this breakthrough allowed A Coy to be committed against Monte d'Argento from the north east. Under cover of an arty barrage, A Coy attacked and reached the base of the feature but were forced back when the assault stalled on thick wire entanglements and all its Offrs were casualties. It had to withdraw back through C Coy and the Bn switched to the defence because, as the sun rose, it was clear that 2 RSF were in a very exposed position and there was no sign of 6 SEAFORTH who were supposed to have landed on the right of 2 RSF and move up to meet them.
So far, 2 RSF had suffered 140 casualties including 7 Offrs.
Maj Sandilands described the scene on the morning of 18 Jan 44:
"The enemy still held Argento, which was only 700 or 800 yards away, and we expected a really bad day. At dawn, the Colonel withdrew D Coy southwards along the beach where they were not so exposed to fire from Argento, and the rest of the Battalion dug in where they were."
Throughout 18 Jan 44, 2 RSF brought arty down on Monte d'Argento and were ordered to attack on the morning of 19 Jan 44. Fortunately for them, a patrol sent out on the night of 18-19 Jan 44 found that Monte d'Argento had been abandoned and, at 0100, D Coy and a Pl of MMG from A Coy 7 CHESHIRE went forward to occupy the feature and B Coy moved up to a position between the feature and Route 7. Here they stayed until 23 Jan 44 when they were relieved by 11 KRRC and moved forward to support a 6 SEAFORTH attack on Monte Natale.
From 19-27 Jan 44, A Coy 7 CHESHIRE occupied defensive positions on Monte d’Argento when it was moved to relieve D Coy in Minturno and came under comd 15 Inf Bde.
Meanwhile, back to the 17-18 Jan 44 attack where, on the right of 2 RSF, 6 SEAFORTH had attacked across the river at Pontefiume by the blown bridge at 2100, ferried across by B Coy 2 NORTHANTS. Unfortunately, they attacked exactly where the Germans had expected the main assault to take place so, although the attack was eventually a success, it was achieved at great loss becauseof heavy German arty fire and the north bank opposite Pontefiume was riddled with anti-personnel mines. These were well covered by German MGs on fixed lines, mortar fire and the Germans were prepared and able to mount strong counter attacks. 6 SEAFORTH were so pinned down that they were quite unable to secure the LD for 2 NORTHANTS follow-on that was scheduled for 0400.
However, by first light, 2 NORTHANTS had been ferried across to the far bank, 6 SEAFORTH had successfully crossed the river, got a foothold on the eastern edge of the ridge and were pushing on towards Minurno.
(Refer the students to the citation on Page 74 describing the action for which Capt George Falconer was also awarded a bar to his MC.)
By first light, 2 NORTHANTS, less B Coy who were running the ferries, were on the far bank and up with 2 RSF and 6 SEAFORTH. However, the minefield in front of 17 Inf Bde proved a very extensive obstacle and many 6 SEAFORTH had to be retrieved and evacuated which further eroded the Bde momentum. In addition, any attempt to bring up stores and vehicles up to Pontefiume was immediately subject to fire from German arty and pockets of infantry on the flat lands. This further slowed momentum.
As day broke on 18 Jan 44, the bridgehead was subjected to heavy German arty fire from OPs in the hills to the north. 17 Inf Bde were in the most exposed position, pinned down by minefields and the arty fire on the flat ground around Monte d’Argento and so a smokecreen had to be put down to shield the position from view. Whilst they were across the Garigliano, the whole of 17 Inf Bde had suffered so many casualties that they were hard pressed to hold onto the triangle of ground that they had secured around Monte d’Argento.
So, on the left of X (BR) Corps, the start of Op PANTHER was inauspicious and only the advance of 13 Inf Bde on their right, soon to be followed by 15 Inf Bde relieved the pressure on 17 Inf Bde. Within 13 Inf Bde, 2 WILTS got three of their four Coys across by midnight on 17-18 Jan 44 and the advance was only halted because 2 RIF were seriously delayed because so many of their boats sank. The success of Phase 1 was not called until 0455 and Phase 2 started at 0530 instead the intended 0330.
2 RIF's crossing point was particularly well defended so they had moved left and used 2 WILTS's crossing point instead. They were across by 0300 and then moved right again in order to get back to their correct position in the bridgehead for the intended advance on Tufo. However, such was the ferocity of the crossing that only 20 of A Coy 2 RIF remained.
2 WILTS reached the Minturno-Castelforte road by first light on 18 Jan 44 and pushed on into the foothills heading for Tufo. Throughout 18 Jan 44, the Germans mounted counter-attacks against both 13 Inf Bde and 17 Inf Bde using some tanks but all were repulsed largely by the efficient use of defensive arty.
2 WILTS spent most of the afternoon of 18 Jan 44 in hand to hand fighting in Tufo. They attacked, secured and then lost Tufo but B Coy on the right was on Colle Casale (Point 199) by 0800 on 18 Jan 44. Counter-attacked, they withdrew to the high ground east of the village. 2 RIF launched Phase 2 at 0530 and after sustaining enormous casualties had, by noon, gained an 800yds foothold in the bridgehead.
Dawn on 18 Jan 44 found 5 BR Inf Div in a very uncomfortable and delicate position and fortunately a thick ground mist limited German visibility so their arty, in turn, was limited. Although the actual Div river crossing had been achieved, the bridgehead was very shallow. Crucially though, X (BR) Corps had ten Bns on the far bank, with rafts bringing anti-tanks guns and heavy weapons across.
5 BR Inf Div realised that 17 Inf Bde could not advance and that Minturno would therefore have to be attacked by 13 Inf Bde from the right instead of straight ahead. Two Coys from 2 CAMERONIANS were ordered to close up more to the left towards Minturno in support of 2 WILTS who were fighting for Tufo. The Tufo attack, as just mentioned, failed.
However, the important point was that X (BR) Corps’ troop build up in the bridgehead was fast enough to defeat the 94 Inf Div counter-attacks. The success of these assaults caused XIV Pz Corps some serious concern about 94 Inf Div’s ability to hold the line. Responding to these concerns, Kesselring ordered mobile reserves from the Rome area to provide reinforcement and, in committing 29 Pz Gren Div, 90 Pz Gren Div and elements of Hermann Goering Pz Div under comd Gen Schlemmer Comd 1 Para Corps, Kesselring was able to stem X (BR) Corps’ progress from 20-21 Jan 44 onwards. The net result was that X (BR) Corps’ intent to advance up the Ausente valley behind the Gustav Line was now fading. However, they had achieved Clark’s intent which was to draw Germans south and away from Anzio which was about to be launched on the night of 21-22 Jan 44.
There is some speculation as to what might have been if X (BR) Corps had had the reserves available to exploit their success and make a decisive breakthrough. X (BR) Corps did not have the extra men, but there would certainly have been time for Clark to alter the overall battle plan and cancel or modify the central attack that II (US) Corps was scheduled to make across the Rapido opposite the Liri valley on 20 Jan 44 before the German reinforcements were able to get into position. As it happened, Clark failed to appreciate the frailty of the German position, and the plan remained unchanged.
The two Divs from Rome arrived by 20-21 Jan 44 and stabilised the German position in the south in front of X (BR) Corps.
5 BR Inf Div then decided that they could do no more until 17 Inf Bde's original objectives around Minturno and Tremensuoli had been secured. So the Div reserve was committed and 15 Inf Bde were ordered to cross the river at 2200 on 18 Jan 44, pass through 2 WILTS and advance westwards in the early hours of 19 Jan 44. Momentum needed to be restored.The plan was for 15 Inf Bde to advance in daylight through 2 WILTS with 1 KOYLI on the right heading for Tufo and 1 GREEN HOWARD on the left heading for Minturno. 1 Y&L would be in reserve and the advance would include every gun in X (BR) Corps.
By 1030 on 19 Jan 44, 1 GREEN HOWARD was entering Minturno against moderate opposition and had cleared it by dusk. Tufo was finally captured by 1 KOYLI and at 1223, they reported:
"Tufo clear after fighting: small counterattack now beaten off. Few casualties. Damage to enemy not yet known."
X (BR) Corps recognised that, with the Germans short of reinforcements – because the mobile reserve had yet to arrive from Rome, they now needed to take full advantage of the situation. Unfortunately, casualties were being caused by mines and clearing them slowed the advance. The number of casualties overall, even with 201 Gds Bde not yet committed, meant that there was little chance of exploiting up the Ausente valley as had originally been intended. But, at least, by the end of 19 Jan 44, the Minturno-Tufo Ridge was secure.
Early on 20 Jan 44 , 15 Inf Bde fanned out westwards towards Monte Natale, Tremensuoli and the high ground overlooking the Capo d'Acqua stream beyond, attacking westwards in two phases. In Phase 1, 1 Y&L that morning attacked on the right towards the Natale feature and, by the end of the afternoon, the objectives the area around the cemetery on the road north from Minturno and a long hill, Monte Natale, had been captured, but not without casualties although they did take 150 PWs. Facing the Germans, A Coy was astride the road, B and C Coys were on Monte Natale with D Coy was in reserve.
Meanwhile, at 1100 on 20 Jan 44, 1 GREEN HOWARD attacked Tremensuoli on the left and Monte del Duca (Point 141), 500yds to the north east. This entailed moving down the forward slope of Monte d’Ercole in front of Minturno and up the other side to the next ridge which was the objective. This was achieved by 1200 and both Monte del Duca and Tremensuoli were secured. The Germans counter-attacked at 1530 but were repelled by Div arty.
In an attempt to secure the X (BR) Corps, 201 Gds Bde crossed the Garigliano on a new Bailey bridge on 20 Jan 44. The plan was for 6 GREN GDS to attack part of the Scauri Peninsula, 2 SG would attack Scauri and 3 COLM GDS would be in reserve at Tremonsuoli. However, on discovering that a German counter-attack was forming up in Scauri this attack was postponed and on the night of 20-21 Jan 44, they moved up to relieve 15 Inf Bde instead because the Germans were massing on that front.
2 SG sent RF Coy to occupy and consolidate on Monte del Duca.
It had been a few days of fluctuating fortunes with nobody quite getting the ground that they needed for stability but the capture of Minturno, Tufo and Tremensuoli, gave 5 BR Inf Div a substantial bridgehead.
What caused delay to further sustained progress was the inability to establish permanent crossings of the Garigliano that were out of range of German guns and observation from German arty OPs on Monte Natale and Monte Scauri. On 18 Jan 44, crossings were limited to rafts and ferries. Bridging went slowly because of the accurate German arty fire from OPs that had not been cleared on the heights and it took until early on 20 Jan 44 to get the first Class 30 bridge in although X (BR) Corps were restricted to use at night only because of continuing German arty fire. This situation went on right until the collapse of the Gustav Line in May 44.
Numerous counter-attacks were launched between 21-23 Jan 44 as German positions were reinforced with Regts and Bns arriving from Hermann Goering Pz Div, 29 Pz Gren Div and 90 Pz Gren Div coming down from their reserve positions north of Rome. 21 Jan 44 was mostly spent rebutting a series of German counter-attacks using the Div arty. The German counter attack on 1 Y&L on the morning of 21 Jan 44 resulted in C Coy being driven with heavy loss on to B Coy’s position, then another counter attack caused further losses. 1 KOYLI was able to recapture Monte Natale but the position was seriously threatened on the evening of 21 Jan 44 and a very heavy German counterattack with armr began on the morning of 22 Jan 44 practically annihilating A Coy. B and C Coys, later reinforced by two Pls from D Coy, all under command of Major DB Webster, held on but, during another counter attack with armr, were ordered to withdraw through the 1 GREEN HOWARDS positions to the rear. Monte Natale was lost to the Germans although 1 GREEN HOWARDS held on to Minturno. After two days of fighting 1 Y&L had suffered nearly 300 casualties, including 64 missing.
The depleted 94 Inf Div had been strengthened by the arrival of 90 Lt Div on 21 Jan 44 and was trying very hard, with its counter attacks, to drive a wedge into the Div Front by pressing through Minturno to the Garigliano.
If you recall, I mentioned earlier that 17 Inf Bde were not contributing very much because, surrounded by mines, they were firmly pinned down in the Argento sector. So 5 BR Inf Div decided to withdraw the Bde for use elsewhere and substitute them for the single Bn of 11 KRRC.
On 22 Jan 44, at first light, the Germans counter-attacked the 2 WILTS position on the Tufo feature. A Coy 2 WILTS was overrun on Colle Casale at Point 199 and it took an attack by 2 CAMERONIANS to recapture it – this time for good. The Germans also counter-attacked 1 KOYLI and got some tanks into the northern outskirts of Minturno but these were blocked by tanks from 40 RTR and the German infantry were pushed back. At 1700 on 22 Jan 44, 1 GREEN HOWARD pushed north beyond Minturno, attacked Point 167 and secured it. They held on all night and all of 23 Jan 44. Also on 22 Jan 44, on the extreme left of the sector, 2 NORTHANTS, now under comd 13 Inf Bde, moved to Div reserve and moved up into the foothills of the Minturno-Tufo Ridge to recce a counter-attack on Monte Natale. The attack was later cancelled but the Bn remained in position and dug in.
Nel caso in cui il testo derivi sempicemente dall'esposizione, con o senza traduzione, di documenti/memorie al solo fine di una migliore e più completa fruizione, la definizione Autore si leggerà A cura di.
Il lungo periodo di inattività è ora giunto al termine. Negli ultimi tre anni quasi tutte le operazioni previste per il "No. 9 Commando" erano state annullate; nei prossimi tre mesi, al contrario, quasi tutte le azioni programmate saranno eseguite.