THE WAR IN ITALY.
The battle for Sicily
10.7.1943-2.9.1943


At 1030 hours on 10th July 1943, 227 Bty landed on "G" beach between Avola and
Siracusa. As the landing craft touched bottom, they were unsuccessfully dive-bombed by three ME 109's. All ranks marched to the assembly area and there they dug in; they sustained three more dive-bombing attacks, with one casualty. Guns and vehicles had not been landed as planned, due to a difficult beach, congestion and sinkings.

Our troops were doing well, the infantry had pushed inland quickly, and armour was in action. The next morning the regiment's first vehicles came ashore. The guns were more trouble but were ashore by midday.

At 1300 hours 11th July the B.C. set off to contact C.R.A. 5 Div at Floridia. The battery was given an area NW of Siracusa, which was still in no-mans-land, the area being reconnoitred in an AEC just before dark. Four guns occupied this position at 0700 hours 12 July, the other four moving up from the beaches as they came off during the morning. Wireless sets had been assembled and fitted during the night.

The regiment's first O.P. was established between Siracusa and Augusta with 13 Bde and at 1000 hours 227 Bty fired its first 'murder' of the war and the first medium shells (4.5") landed in Europe. 'A' Tp. occupied three fresh positions on the 12th, and by nightfall 'B' Tp. moved up to the battery position just south of the bay from Augusta harbour.

On the evening of the 12th the battery was subjected to strafing from a squadron of
ME 109's at zero feet, and were later dive-bombed. Three Spitfires shot down seven out of ten JUS 8's which approached the gun position.

'A' Tp's O.P. truck entered the outskirts of Augusta (held by German PGR's) with 17
Bde who took 30 prisoners. They then withdrew from the town for a naval bombardment. The attack on the town went in on the morning of the 13th, and Augusta fell at 0900 hours. 'A' Tp moved up with 15 Bde of 5 Div over hilly country to attack VUlasmundo.

The battery fired 'stonks' and 'murders' all day as 13 Bde pushed up the road. One 10
rpg 'stonk' was fired on a commanding ridge after two ranging salvos and then repeated, the three field regiments joining in. This enabled the Green Howards to take the strongly held position with few casualties and to count many German dead. The following day the gunners were able to see the telling effect of this fire.

Meanwhile, the second half of the invasion fleet had arrived off Siracusa on D+3 and were shuttled ashore in landing craft. However Siracusa was now firmly in our hands and we were able to land at the quayside of the town where we were surprised to find smiling Italians helping to tie up the boats. We marched to an assembly area two miles west of the port without incident other than some occasional strafing from the air.


Later in the afternoon the M.T. ships with the vehicles and guns pulled into the beaches at Avola, where for several days and nights they were harassed by dive-bombers, and during this time two ships were sunk. The regiment, however, sustained no loss. 228 Battery then moved up to a hide area, and were then ordered into action by the C.R.A., but were delayed by a mistake in loading which caused ammunition and 'Q' vehicles to come off before the guns. 228 Bty then moved up to another hide area on the Mellili-Carlentini road for the night of 15/16th July.

227 Battery had fired throughout the night of 13/14111 and were again unsuccessfully dive- bombed and shelled. At 0600 hours orders were received to move halfway up the main axis to Villasmundo.

The ammunition vehicles were still coming off the beaches about 50 miles back. As they came off they were loaded with ammo or rations, and were formed into a shuttle service. All vehicles eventually turned up with the exception of six motor-cycles.

'A' Tp O.P. went out again on the 14th with 13 Bde to pass through 15 Bde to attack
Villasmundo. 227 Bty moved into a new position at 1000 hours and the town was taken at 1300 hours. The battery then had a short breather, the first in four days, and some of the men were able to get their clothes off for the first time and bathed in a mill stream. All up the road there was ample evidence of the bloody battle that had raged the previous night and during the morning. Many German and Italian dead and knocked-out guns, pill-boxes, tanks and vehicles were seen, and the sickly smell of death was experienced for the first time.

The breather was short-lived as at 1800 hours the signal "Foster forward" (Lt. Col. Foster was then C.O. of the regiment) came. This meant that 5 Div had taken Villasmundo and halted on a line south ofCarlentini. 50 Div advancing inland pushed on to Carlentini, and then along the common axis to Lentini. 227 Bty passed from under command 5 Div to under command 50 Div. C.R.A. 50 Div at Carlentini now instructed the B.C. to move the battery to a rendezvous south ofCarlentini on the Villasmundo/Carlentini axis. The route for recce was Villasmundo/Carlentini/Lentini. This route was checked by the B.C. as there were none of our troops between just north of Villasmundo and Carlentini. The route was confirmed. The main bridge south ofCarlentini was blown and 5 Div halted six miles short of it astride the axis. The recce party turned back and met elements of the Recce Regiment with a squadron of tanks, who were making a long detour, and joined the column.

The three leading Sherman tanks were knocked out by two 88mm guns, blocking the
narrow track. The two 88s were in turn knocked out, the remaining tanks pushed on, and the column entered Carlentini about 2300 hours and met 50 Div who had taken the town during the afternoon. There was no sign of the C.R.A. and information was received that he might be on the road to Lentini. The tanks went off across country to the right of the axis; our recce party went down a track to the right and at midnight met a company of 50 Div infantry and found out that the H.Q.R.A. was still 30 miles back on the divisional axis. They carried on down the track towards the main road, and to get back had to enter Lentini to find it still in the hands of the enemy. After driving up two cul-de-sacs, being waved on by an Italian troop-carrier and saluted by a German sentry, and then having given some cigarettes to two Italian policemen, they were directed out of the town on the road back to Carlentini At 0300 hours the recce party met the C.R.A. 50 Div who informed them that Capt.Hussey and Sig.Turnbull had been killed that afternoon during a dive-bombing attack; the other two of his O.P. party were seriously wounded. The C.R.A. gave the battery an area near Carlentini.


Meanwhile the B.C. had led 227 Battery to a rendezvous, and finding the bridge to Carlentini blown, turned round, and going back 20 miles crossed the mountains by a precipitous track certainly not meant for medium guns at night. They reached 50 Div axis without mishap and went into troop hides in the area of Carlentini, as Lentini had been taken about 0900 hours. The B.C. went in search of the C.R.A.. An area was given and another recce set off to the area which turned out to be held by elements of the 1st German Para Div. They had been dropped during the nights of 14715th and 15716th to hold the approaches to the Catania plain. The recce party decided to look for another area.
At 1300 hours the original recce party rejoined the battery having traced their steps over the hills from the rendezvous. At 1530 hours an officer went out on a motor-cycle to get some information as nothing had been heard from the recce. He met the B.M.R.A. who gave him a new and definite area just through Lentini 'B' Troop's four guns moved off into the area and got off the road as by now armour was streaming down it from the beach-head, heading for the high ground overlooking the Catania plain.

At 2000 hours the B.C., with the C.O. who had just come up from the Tac RHQ, met one recce party on the road, and a few minutes later the other recce vehicles turned up, and the battery got into action at 2130 hours. At 2145 hours a big four and a half hour counter battery programme was received starting at 2200 hours. That assisted 50 Div to capture Primasole Ridge overlooking the Catania plain. 150 German paratroops were dropped behind the battery. The B Echelon was attacked, but the Durham Light Infantry drove off the paratroops and eventually rounded them up the next day. On the 17 , 'A' Troop commander established an O.P. on high ground overlooking the plain.

On the 17th 228 Battery also moved up into action forward of Lentini, and with the arrival of Tac R.H.Q. the Regiment was in action together for the first time. 228 Battery's first evening in action was enlivened by dive-bombing and strafing. Gunners of the LAA Regiment of 5 Div provided a thrill by bringing down four out of six ME 109's within half a mile of the battery position. During the night Gunner Denholm electrified 228 Battery Command Post by bringing in five German paratroopers from the 'C' Troop area.

On the evening of 18th July, the regiment moved by batteries to Primasole Ridge and took up positions for the battle of Catania. Up to this time both batteries had operated
independently, fixing their positions by map reference and co-ordinating their guns by
compass. At Tac R.H.Q. the survey section came into action for the first time in preparing these positions and providing them with accurate fixes and bearings on the South Italian Grid. They were uncomfortably exposed and proved to be bad positions as no flash cover was available. The enemy had sited considerable artillery in the foothills at the northern side of the Catania Plain, one battery of Italian 305/17 naval guns (made by Vickers before WW1) being particularly troublesome. We received several near misses during the course of our recce and survey as later did the batteries themselves.

On arrival in their position (which came to be known 'Happy Valley' because of its
vulnerability to enemy fire) 228 Battery discovered two similar 305/17 12" guns. They were surveyed in, and after much hard work by the Royal Marines as they were concrete-mounted, they were turned around to fire inland and took part in the shelling of Catania.


On 23rd July "A" Tp and 'C' Tp were heavily shelled, sustaining three and four casualties respectively. On the morning of the 24th 'C' Tp moved to an alternative position. Later that day 'A' Tp was again subjected to heavy shelling, and No1 gun received a direct hit; JL/Bdr Oable was killed and three men seriously wounded. After this 'A'Tp also moved to an alternative position, and in view of the shelling and their proximity to the captured 305/17, 'D'Tp and 228 Command Post moved, the latter to the "House on the Hill" which later proved invaluable as an OP for datum point shooting, the targets being surveyed in by the regiment's section. On the 25th 'D'Tp was heavily shelled; Sig Mercer was kilted and three others seriously wounded. In consequence the troop moved on the night of26tfa/27 and were back in action at 0240 hours on the 27111. The new position was to the west of the main road and was said to be "blissfully peaceful". The next day 228 Bty's old Command Post was demolished by a direct hit from a 305 shell.

A long-range duel now started between 227 Bty mid the enemy's 305's (which were
known as "Dog-Charlie"). In this they were assisted by 40 South African Air Force
Squadron. Later it was noted that both of the guns received hits. The regiment remained in the Primasole Ridge area until the 3rd August, firing continuously in support of the hard fighting for the approaches to the city and port of Catania. During this period, roving sections of guns were sent out each night in positions on the banks of the Simeto river for special tasks. Each of these positions had been previously surveyed by RHQs own section during daylight hours - somewhat hair-raising tasks as these positions were wide open to enemy observation. Here too the regiment supported 51 Highland Div who were advancing to the west of Catania, and for a time the regiment's line communications were the only means of contact between 13 and 30 Corps.

On 5th August the battle again became mobile and the regiment moved forward in support of the Yorks and Lanes Bn of 5 Div. The attack went well, the objective was taken and Bejpasso, about 5 miles NW of Catania, fell on the 6th; after BeJpasso the battalion pushed on and was subjected to heavy mortaring, suffering severe casualties. 'D'Tp engaged and silenced the mortars, one of them being destroyed. On 5th August Catania ten to the Durham Light Infantry of 50 Div.

From then on the campaign moved rapidly to its dose. To hastes the retreat of a fleeing enemy maximum effort was called for, and at one time the regiment had 5 OP's deployed. The last position occupied by the regiment was at the beautiful sea-side resort ofPuzzHIo, where welcome relief in the intervals was enjoyed m sea-bathing. This was most appreciated by those of us employed on the gun positions around Mount Etna as every round fired produced incredible clouds of black volcanic dust.

On 14th August the regiment was withdrawn from battle, and went to rest and carry out much-needed maintenance at Patagonia. While we were there "The Sicilian Times", which later became "The Lowland Gazette " saw the light of day for the first time (see Appendix B)- We were also making preparations for the invasion of mainland Italy.






HISTORY PAGE

Copyright © 2003, Chris Dunham . All Rights Reserved