It was on 1st September 1943 that we knew that the zero
hour for the next phase of
operations was imminent. We moved from Patagonia where we had been resting
reorganising for just over two weeks to a concentration area near Misterbianco.
In the course of that journey we passed close to the Catania airfields
which were as busy as a cluster of beehives. Dozens and dozens of medium
bombers - Mitchells, Bostons and Baltimores - were flying round in their
formations, or just landing or taking off. It was the largest concentration
of planes we had seen and it was a strange and exhilarating sight, and
we knew that, whatever horrors and dangers lay before us, there was
this colossal number of aircraft operating in our support. That never-ending
shuttle service continued throughout the following three days.
On 3 September we moved northwards through Acireale and up the main
towards Messina, leaving behind all personnel and vehicles not absolutely
essential to our immediate requirements. When nearing Riposto in the
late afternoon we were turned off the main road up a minor country lane
which twisted about but could be seen from the map to rejoin the main
road further on. Before this was reached, however, the column was halted
by traffic stationary in front, and it appeared that we were to remain
there that night. We were then in a narrow road with high stone walls
and vineyards on either side. There was no means of getting off the
road, so meals were prepared on the spot, following which everybody
bedded down on the road or in the backs of their vehicles. It was just
an hour later at 2200 hours when word came back along the column that
we were soon to move, and within 15 minutes everyone was up and dressed
and all signs of bedding had disappeared. Soon afterwards we were on
the move once more.
A very difficult journey lay before us as it was a pitch black night
and the road running along the narrow coastal strip between Mt.Etna
and the sea was anything but straight. In addition there were numerous
craters in the road caused mainly by enemy demolitions of roads and
bridges. Others were the result of our own bombing of enemy transport.
These all necessitated diversions which were extremely difficult to
negotiate in the darkness.
At about 0400 hours on the morning of 4 September we arrived at the
loading beaches. There was an LST ready with its doors open and ramp
lowered, and it took a comparatively short time for all vehicles to
be loaded. They had to be backed up a very steep ramp which caused some
of the drivers a little trouble. Once up the ramp and onto a lift they
were raised up to the top deck, where they were manoeuvred snugly into
their position. Soon all of the RHQ and 228 Bty vehicles were on board.
Shortly afterwards we left the beach and commenced the trip which was
to land us on the mainland of Europe on D Day plus one, 227 Bty again
being with the assault troops on D Day for an unopposed landing. This
was dictated, of course, because 227 Bty had 4.5" guns while 228
Bty had the 5.5" guns with the shorter range. There were many other
landing craft and amphibious DUKW's operating a ferry service to and
By this time the day had developed
into its usual perfect aspect. The sea, very smooth, was a deep blue.
The sun, from a cloudless blue sky, shone on the beautiful north-eastern
shore of Sicily. We had embarked just north ofTaormina and were to land
north ofReggio di Calabria. The Sicilian coast from Taormina up to Messina
is extremely picturesque with the hills falling steeply from Mt.Etna
into the sea, houses and villages nestling in little nooks, and the
whole covered with the deep green of thickly planted orange and lemon
groves. The whole scene was very lovely, with the mountains of Calabria
rising in a purple mass against the morning sun. We could see houses
and the town ofReggio, and it all looked calm and peaceful. However,
we did not know.
Throughout that trip there was not the least sign of any hostile aircraft.
We saw one plane only - a Spitfire patrol circling low over the sea.
Then we approached the Italian shore, and there were numbers of other
landing craft discharging their cargoes on the beaches. The scene was
one of considerable activity with the unloading of countless men, stores
and vehicles of all types. Of signs of enemy activity from the land,
sea or air there were none.
At the moment that the shingle beach was touched, the great mouth of
the landing craft opened and immediately a stream of vehicles issued
forth from the ramp on to the beach and quickly disappeared up a track
which led from it. In a matter of 20 minutes the complete load of something
like a hundred vehicles had been discharged.
On reaching the road at the top of the track from the beach, we were
uncertain whether to turn right or left, so we enquired of an M.P. on
duty there. Incredible as it may seem in view of the fact that about
50 of our vehicles with their signs to identify the unit had, a few
minutes before, passed that point, this man did not know which way they
had gone, but thought they had turned south. We therefore followed his
directions, but turned round after some time having found no trace of
the unit, and eventually found them some distance north.
The roads were absolutely packed with masses of vehicles of all sizes
and descriptions, including many large amphibious DUKW's - movement
was at a walking pace. At about midday we left the main road and proceeded
up a lane for about a mile before dispersing and parking in the area
of a river bed.
This river bed was the same as many others we were to see all over Italy.
They vary from a hundred yards to a mile across. They are flat and mainly
covered with shingle with 'islands' of tufty grass and bamboo canes
here and there. Except after heavy rain, or more especially after a
thaw of snow, the river itself is often dry, or in some cases, a stream
of water a few yards wide somewhere in the centre of the bed.
It was not until late in the afternoon that orders to move were received.
afterwards the regiment continued northwards up the coastal road opposite
Messina. After two or three miles we turned inland again, this time
up a minor road which was to take us right on to the top of the Aspromonte
Plateau. This must remain amongst the most difficult drives of the whole
campaign. By this time night had fallen, and the road was as bad as
one could imagine. It was narrow, steep, twisting all the way with immense
hair-pin bends, rough surfaced, sometimes deeply rutted as well. For
many stretches up this road, one side was the edge of a sheer precipice.
It will remain a mystery how the whole regiment climbed that road without
the loss of a single vehicle. Special praise is due to the drivers of
the AEC gun tractors who successfully coped with their 12 tons of gun
and tractor in such difficult circumstances.
RHQ here was situated in a railwayman's house beside a level crossing,
and two incidents that night are worthy of mention. While toying with
the railway telephone, which we presumed to be out of action, we were
most surprised when an Italian voice answered. Unfortunately, in spite
of our efforts to speak Italian, he shut up again. The speaker may well
have been in enemy-held territory further up the line. Then, in a cupboard
in that house, we came across a white flag. It appeared that the previous
occupier had been folly prepared to hand over to us without any unnecessary
The next day, 8th September 1943 was notable for the great news of the
Italian Armistice, causing considerable merriment and speculation as
to the future course of the war in Italy. That aight, however, the Germans
reminded us of their continued existence by heavy shelling of our regimental
area near Rosagno, which had been the scene of hard fighting. During
that night a single gun of 'D' Tp went out to harass the enemy. German
counter battery work was good for, having fired off 30 rounds, the detachment
was subjected to heavy shelling in reply. The AEC gun tractor was riddled
with shrapnel, but the detachment suffered no casualties.
The next day we moved on again, harbouring for the night, and on again
day in support of Marine Commandos of 231 Independent Bde which had
landed at Pizzo and met stiff opposition. We arrived at Pizzo a day
later. It was a pretty little visage nestling between the sea and steep
mountain slopes. Our stay there was sufficiently long to enable us to
have a most enjoyable bathe. In this town we "found" a German
HQ truck, and from this the "Lowland Gazette" acquired
its own typewriter, much to the relief of 228 Bty Office.
Then we went on, with two intervening positions in one day to a position
about ten miles south of Nicastro. Here, on the Piano di Forche we spent
several days. The guns were at action stations although we did no firing.
The enemy were soon out of range, and the opportunity was taken for
two days rest and maintenance. When we did leave there it was for a
very long and tiring jump. We moved in one day well over 100 miles from
Nicastro up the coastal road through Paola to a place about ten miles
north of Belvedere. The day was hot and the road exceedingly dusty,
and before long everything and everybody was covered with a thick coating
of chalky white dust. At the end of the trip RHQ was established in
a most palatial railway station. The station master was still there
and he showed us some interesting and very modern electrical signalling
and control apparatus. Our advance had been so rapid that the mains
electricity was stffl connectedl It was here that our rear party, left
behind in Sicily, finally caught up with us.
We moved on, again rapidly, through Trecchina, Lagonegro and Casalbuono,
and the guns finally came into position at Polla, where we were to remain
for some days. Throughout these early days on the Italian mainland,
the regiment was supporting 5 Div. We were now to support the 1st Canadian
Division moving up the centre had captured Potenza. Our move from Polla
to Join our Dominion colleagues was first to a concentration area east
ofPoIIa. It was of no particular note, except for the fact that we had
our own 'private' drive, being two or three miles up a narrow track
leading nowhere but up a hillside.