THE WAR IN ITALY.
Potenza to Lanciano
27.9.43 - 14.3.44.


After a couple of days at the staging area near Potenza we made a long hop through
Tolve, Gravina and Spinazzola to Minervino. The road between Tolve and Gravina was a masterpiece of road engineering. It wound up and down hills with extreme double hairpin bends, built up on one side with concrete and with a very smooth, well-banked surface.

The following morning, before the main body of the regiment arrived, the C.0.2 visited Minervino and discovered an ideal method of shopping in an Italian town. He saw the police superintendent, told him all that was wanted and sat in his office while everything was brought to us there. One merchant trying to overcharge on a bottle of cognac was marched away to be locked up - otherwise prices were pretty fair.

On 29 September 1943, a mobile armoured column was formed consisting of armoured cars, tanks, motorised infantry and supporting arms which included our regiment. We were all ready to move at 0400 hours, and soon a long column of tanks began to rumble by. The O.P.s and R. A. commanders took their places among them, and following them was to be a field regiment recce party, and then our own recce party which included one 4:5" gun. After the tanks, however, there was no sign of the field party, and it transpired that they were to join the column later.

We moved at a slow but steady pace all that morning through Canosa, Cerignola and the ruins ofFoggia, which already had been virtually destroyed by aerial bombardment and then captured by airborne troops. Lucera was in sight when we halted for a while. We learned that our advance guard had met slight opposition on the other side of the town, and that gave us a chance to have a hurried lunch, for we had breakfasted at 0300 hours that morning.

That afternoon we had passed through Lucera and negotiated two diversions owing to river bridges being demolished, when the forward elements were held up at Motta on the high ground overlooking the Foggia plain through which we had been passing. The C.O. of the Canadian tank regiment decided to attack at 1600 hours, without waiting for the infantry, and our own C.O. accompanied him in his tank.

The road was strafed and bombed by a squadron of F.W. 190's destroying two vehicles and causing slight damage to one of our O.P.trucks. Some of our surveyors were further along the road preparing to survey in another position and soon made themselves inconspicuous, although they were several hundred yards from the scene of damage. Our pistol gun was caught at a diversion but escaped unharmed. The gun was immediately deployed, opened fire and destroyed an 88mm covering the approaches to Motta. The tanks got up the steep slope to the outskirts of the town, and after a short sharp fight in which three of them were knocked out, they entered the town. At dusk, the infantry had not arrived and the armour was forced to withdraw. The following morning Motta was secured and occupied by the infantry. In a fighter-bomber attack on this day, the regiment suffered some casualties and Capt.Geofrey Hale was killed.


From this time onwards the rains came more and more frequently. A gun position was
prepared in the foothills near Motta, but rain made the ground too soft for it to be occupied. The Canadians pushed on and the regiment moved up through Motta on the evening of 3 Oct. The next occupied area was west of Motta just below the crest overlooking Volturara and San Marco, which were still in enemy hands. The survey here was completed in pouring rain, and as it had become pitch dark there was much difficulty in finding R.H.Q., which turned out to be in a much damaged house in Motta.

On the morning of 4 Oct the Div. Commander decided to put in a brigade attack on San Marco, on the crest of the next high feature. A quick barrage was ordered with 228 Bty. super-imposed over a three field regiment frontage, and 227 Bty. firing a concentration on the southern half of the town. The attack failed in the face of stiff resistance and very difficult going. The following morning the town was taken after an outflanking movement. 'A'Tp. scout car in support of the attack was blown up by a double mine, Gnr.Roberts was killed and the rest of the crew seriously wounded.

The recce from there went over the crest, through Volturara and into the valley below.
Positions were difficult to find as the river bed and likely gun areas were heavily mined. The position chosen was up to the top again on the opposite side of the valley overlooking San Marco. It was here that the heaviest rain we had then encountered fell, and we had our first experience of bogged vehicles.

Returning into the valley and advancing towards Gambatesa another area was prepared just off the main road. A two-wheel drive Ford 8 cwt, had been taken down a track to one of the battery areas, and while it was there more rain came and there was much difficulty in getting it out again. Chains had to be fitted, a dirty job in a ploughed field in pouring rain, and even then required much heaving and pushing to get it back. We were on the last slope up to the metalled road when we met a convoy of3-tonners coming down and we had to give way. When they had gone by we were thankful to get out, but only then with the assistance of a tow from the top.

Later, when the guns arrived, one of the AEC tractors skidded down this same track,
glided slowly over the side and turned completely upside-down, bringing the gun over with it. Luckily, there were no injuries from this mishap apart from one or two of the crew being somewhat shaken.

While we were at this location, 'B'Tp. O.P. was shelled and received a direct hit, 'A'Tp. G.P.O.'s truck went up in flames, and 'DTp. O.P. came under mortar fire. In the final attack on Gambatesa, the Canadian infantry commander recorded his appreciation of the excellent work done by 'C'Tp. O.P.party.

The next position was notable for the fact that the regiment received its first allocation of jeeps, which made life much easier in doing cross-country work. Then on to a position near Jelsi which became notable by the arrival of a film show- our first in Italy. We were then some ten miles from Campobasso. Shortly afterwards the regiment moved up complete to Jelsi, the batteries into positions just behind the town and R.H.Q. in the town itself. The Tribunale, a most palatial building provided spacious accommodation for offices, M.I.Room and messes.

Several days were spent at Campobasso before, on 21 Oct we were relieved and went
back to a rest area between Gambatesa and Volturara for maintenance and overhauling of guns and vehicles.

On 27 Oct. 43 the regiment received orders to move to the Adriatic coastal sector, again under command 5 Div. to support 78 Div. who had just landed at Termoli and were held up on the river Trigno, and positions were prepared overlooking the Trigno valley. Now began the "Battle of the Rivers", one of the bloodiest in the Italian campaign, and which was to last until 30 Nov.

78 Div. were held up here for several days until on 1 Nov., a very exposed O.P. was
established in front of the infantry on the south bank of the river. With observations from here the regiment fired heavy concentrations in support of 78 Div. which enabled them to cross the river and establish a bridgehead on the other side. 227 Bty. then moved into a new position close to the river, and as soon as they were in action, 228 Bty. moved in alongside.

On 2 Nov 43, supported by 4 Armd.Bde and by heavy concentrations of fire from field artillery, 66 Med.Regt. and 80 Med. Regt., 78 Div. put in a full scale attack to break out of the bridgehead and capture San Salvo. This was achieved on 5 Nov. after a tank battle in which 20 tanks of 16 Pz..Div. were destroyed. 78 Div. moved up fast towards the River Sangro and the regiment crossed the Trigno and occupied positions near San Salvo.

On 5 Nov. 11 Bde. was occupying a small village called Montedorisio overlooking the
gently sloping ground up to the mountains south of the Sangro. This ground was held by 16 Pz.Div. and it was decided to attack the ridge with tank support. The tanks went in behind a barrage from two field regiments and a concentration from 66 Med.Regt. This fire programme was effective and tanks of 4 Amid. Bde. got close up to those of 16 Pz.Div in their defensive hull-down positions. The Shermans shot it out until 20 enemy tanks were forced to withdraw down the main road. Here they presented a perfect target to the O.P. being used by 132 Field Regt., our own 227 Bty., and 11 Bde. Field and medium concentrations were quickly brought down on the withdrawing tanks, causing two "brew ups". 4 Armd.Bde. destroyed several more in tank actions and 16 Pz.-Div.was virtually written off as a fighting force for some time to come.

Infantry and tanks continued to advance . On 7 Nov. Paglieta was captured and Monte Calvo was attacked, and with tanks again in support, the attack was completely successful. Our O.P. got their carrier right on top of the mountain with the leading infantry, but the arrival of the tanks brought down heavy fire on the forward infantry positions. The O.P. was able to get two bearings onto the enemy guns and sent these to the brigade O.P. some 2,000 yards to the left rear. They also got a farther set of bearings from a 132 Field Rgt. O.P. on the right flank. Two fairly good intersections were obtained and the resultant map references were heavily bombarded by two medium and two field regiments. The enemy fire ceased.

This illustrates a system which was continually in use in counter-battery work. Sound
bearings by day and flash bearings by night were sent back, with timings noted, from various positions along the front. These were then matched up and plotted by counter-battery staff and the whereabouts of enemy artillery ascertained and subjected to counter-battery fire.


By 8 Nov. 78 Div. had subdued all German resistance south of the Sangro. The regiment had given them valuable support and were then in a position south ofCasalbordino. On 13 Nov. regimental advance parties moved up to prepare the Sangro battle positions. The bridgehead there was still small at that time, and the work there was a part of secret preparations for the battle. Gun pits were dug, and the survey completed as inconspicuously as possible. Thereafter for five days the R.S.O. and party occupied the farmhouse which later became our Tac.R-H.Q.

228 Bty. position was the most forward position in the 8th Army and was immediately
below the Sangro escarpment, and was visited from time to time by German patrols. Of course we all listened to the B.B.C. news bulletins which were beamed to us, and one night there was a programme about the build-up for the Sangro battle and we heard a report about "the sharp crack of the 25-pounders and the deeper sound of the medium guns further back." Since 228 were so close up that they dare not open fire until the final barrage started, they took a dim view of that report!

227 Bty. were more fortunate in being nearer the road. The regiment was ordered into
position on the night of 13 Nov. and after five days of very strenuous work impeded by intermittent shelling and heavy rain, the guns were in action. In conformity with the security plan, such work had to be done at night as the final approach to 228 Bty. position was in full view of the enemy. An O.P. was established on the escarpment and a strong patrol guarded the approach to the position from the north. For their outstanding work in this and earlier positions, Sgt.Johnson, Sgt.Roberts and Gnr.West of 228 Bty. were Mentioned in Despatches and B.S.M.Wickham was awarded the M.B.E.

On 20 Nov., the regiment was visited by the Army Commander, General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, who spent the afternoon walking round the gun positions. He divulged to us the overall plan which was to break through the Sangro and push up beyond Orsogna and westwards across the mountain range to capture Rome. It was mainly the weather which eventually frustrated these plans.

From that Sangro position there was an excellent view of the intense bombing which was carried out by our light and medium bombers. On one occasion the ridge overlooking the river, about 500 yards in front ofTac H.Q., we saw the approach of a formation of 24 Mitchell bombers. They came in from the coast, dropped their bombs on the ground which appeared almost to lift up in a terrific mass of flame and smoke. They fell on the river side of a crest near Fossacesia, in full view about 3000 yards away. It was an amazing sight.

The main attack went in on 28 Nov. 43 when the regiment fired heavy concentrations in support of 8 Indian and 78 Divs. As they forced the crossing of the Sangro in strength. During this battle 228 Bty. alone fired some 4000 rounds. From the Tac.R.H.Q. position on the ridge an excellent view was obtained of the battle for Fossacesia - Santa Maria - Mossagrogna ridges. An immense barrage was put down by our guns and a large pall of smoke hung over the whole battlefield.

On one occasion (a Sunday) R.H.Q. suffered a spot of'morning hate' and the officers'
latrines received two very near misses from a 17 cm. It was actually covered with a large amount of debris, but fortunately was not occupied at the time.


The Sangro battle, the biggest we had yet seen, was fought on 29/30 Nov. 1943.

228 Bty. now came under command of 80 Med. and gun positions were reconnoitred in the village of San Eusanio, but owing to heavy rain swelling the river, the existing bridges were washed away and only 'C Tp. succeeded in crossing the river and getting into position. Two days later the remainder of the battery arrived and, again under our own command, was followed into an adjoining position by 227 Bty. By this time 228 Bty. had swapped its 5.5" guns with 75 Med. for 4.5's, and 66 Med. became the only regiment in the theatre which was equipped with 16 guns firing up to 20,000 yards. 'C'Tp. were shelled on several occasions during the first few days, Gnr.Boyd being killed.

From these positions the regiment supported the New Zealand Div. in their several
attempts to take Orsogna. O.P. work was particularly arduous. Signaller Forrester operated the wireless (after the second signaller had been wounded) and repaired six breaks in the long remote wire to the O.P., being heavily mortared on each occasion. For this he was awarded the M.M. Gen.Freyberg personally thanked the regiment for the support given to his troops.

Early in Jan.44 the C.0.2 and several others were wounded on the "mad mile" near Castelfrentano. On 5 Jan. several roving gun positions were prepared which were used for harassing fire against the enemy. On 15 Jan. during some of the worst weather of the winter, the regiment moved to Santa Amata Ridge close to the most forward positions and under observation from Orsogna. We were in support of 1 Cdn. Div. and 5 Cdn.Armd.Div. in their fight for the coast town ofOrtona, which they finally captured after fierce street fighting and heavy casualties. This was the worst position we had yet occupied. We were shelled heavily and continuously for a fortnight, but fortunately casualties to personnel were light. Sgt.Stephenson of 228 Bty. was awarded the M.M. for putting out burning charges and evacuating several casualties, even though he was himself wounded. 227 Bty. had a gun pit and several vehicles damaged, and two slight casualties.

So we pulled back off the crest a short distance to the area ofLanciano, where we were delighted to find that not only were there hot showers available at a Baths Unit, but also we had our second film show of the campaign. Now, early in March, we began to hear rumours that we were off to the other side of the country to help out in the battle for Cassino, so we were preparing for a long move again.


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