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
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
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
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
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
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
On 5 Nov. 11 Bde. was occupying a small village called Montedorisio
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
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
This illustrates a system which was continually in use in counter-battery
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
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
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
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
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.