On 14 Mar. we left Lanciano, having
been pulled out of the line, to go back via Torino
where 227 Bty. deployed overnight in support of 8 Ind.Div., and Cerignola
to Melfi, where we had a short rest while guns were calibrated at San
Nicandro. Our short stay at Melfi, which is not very far from Naples,
was enlivened by the fact that Vesuvius was in eruption and issuing
huge clouds of multi-coloured smoke. During one night it was snowing
very heavily, and dawn revealed that the snow had absorbed much dust
from the atmosphere and all our equipment and vehicles were thick with
a half-inch layer of red mud when the snow thawed - and that took some
On 2 Apr. we set off again through Lucera to Benevento. The next day
we moved on
through Caserta and Capua and on to Venafro where we pulled into a hide
overnight. The following day we reached our allotted area near Cervaro
which was quite close to Cassino town and east of Monte Trocchio which
was a central feature overlooking the
Rapido valley. The guns came on 6 Apr., and moved into position for
the final battle for Cassino and Monte Cassino Abbey. Here the regiment
was in support of the Polish Corps and the French Corps of 5 Army, later
coming under command of 4 Br.Div. for the crossing of the Rapido river
and the assault on the Hitler line. Aware that an important and intense
battle was imminent, command posts and offices and cookhouses were all
dug in as a precaution against enemy fire.
During this time we were only too aware of the abbey with what appeared
to be hundreds of windows looking down upon us - it was a most uncanny
feeling. We had a perfect and close-up view of the USAF bombing of Cassino
town and the monastery. Wave after wave of bombers unleashed their loads
on these targets which were reduced to ruins. No useful purpose appeared
to have been achieved, however. The Germans' defence was as strong from
the ruins of the town and monastery as it was before.
Our C.O. had all guns calibrated on datum points in the Rapido valley
at all charges from the O.P. on Monte Trocchio. This proved invaluable
as, when the battle started, fire was called for on many targets which
were very close to our own infantry, and calls were answered confidently
by B.C.s and F.O.O.s. Whilst in this area B.S.M. Rennie was killed when
going along the road near San Pietro.
At Cassino the Germans had massed one of their biggest artillery concentrations
of the war so far and put down heavy concentrations of fire on our extensive
gun areas. Our counter battery, run by 13 Corps C.B. office, was on
a very large scale and very effective.
Zero hour for the main offensive was 2300 hours on 11 May. The evening
quiet, such as many had previously been. Occasional gunfire was seen
and heard, carrying out normal counter-battery and harassing tasks.
Then at precisely 2300 hours the whole broad valley, about 10 miles
across, covering the fronts of the British Eighth and American Fifth
Armies, lit up in a gigantic mass of gun flashes with deafening sound,
which was to continue non-stop for several days.
4 Br.Div., after one of the heaviest artillery preparations of the war,
in which 66 Med.Rgt. participated with counter-battery and concentrations,
crossed the Rapido, and 10 Bde. got a very precarious footing on the
far bank. Early in the morning of 12 May, 12 Bde. with an F.0.0. party
from our regiment crossed the newly-erected Bailey bridge. This brigade
was subjected to heavy defensive fire and counter attacks but, with
tank support, they pushed on and took their objectives after hard fighting.
Our F.0.0. party was continuously with the leading companies, and on
one occasion provided the only communication to Brigade, as the battalion's
wireless sets had all been knocked out or had failed. The F.0.0. passed
back very useful information and called for several much needed defensive
fire concentrations. Sgt. Whitman on one occasion crawled forward with
a No. 18 wireless set to one of the leading companies whose communications
had failed and re-established essential links. For this and subsequent
good work he was awarded the M.M.
At 12 Bde. B.C. 227 Bty. was called upon to put down heavy concentrations
very close to the infantry. On one occasion on orders from the Bde.
Cdr. the regiment fired between our tanks and our infantry, 200 yards
from the former and 300 yards from the latter, to break up a counter-attack
by the German 1 Para. Div. which had penetrated our lines with the aid
of tanks. One tank was knocked out and the enemy was forced to withdraw.
Then 12 Bde. crossed the Rapido with an A.G.R.A. representative. At
this stage Cassino was virtually cut off and the infantry and armour
were thrusting forward towards the Hitler line. Numerous calls for fire
from the regiment and A.G.R.A. were answered with telling effect, especially
in the area of Piedimonte. After grim fighting and the full weight of
a division and army group artillery Piedimonte finally passed into our
Meanwhile, R.H.Q. was a busy place, directing fire continuously day
and night. On 14
May a position was reccied south of Monte Trocchio within 1000 yards
of the battle going on over the river and rather too close for comfort
to some enemy heavy artillery bombardment of the railway line. The following
day another position was reccied but it proved to be heavily mined and
was, in fact, never occupied.
The next day a position was prepared on the outskirts of Cassino which
was then still
enemy held, though virtually surrounded. Infantry mortars were still
in action at the position for 'A'.Tp. The next day. however, Cassino
was cleared of the enemy and the monastery was taken. The survey of
the position on the next day was completed despite an enemy air-raid,
and the guns moved into this position on 18 May.
On 20 May, we crossed the Rapido river, advancing along the railway
line into a position directly below the monastery. Here there was much
evidence of the fighting which had preceded us - many knocked out tanks
and dead Germans. The regiment now came under command of 78 Div. for
the battle of the Hitler line and the subsequent swift and successful
follow-up battle to Alatri. Support was also given to 5 Cdn.Armd.Div
in their dramatic break-through to the Melfa river.
On 24 May 228 Bty. had a position at Fiumarolo but the bridge on the
road was blown and an alternative roundabout route had to be reccied.
The following day 227 Bty. leapfrogged ahead into a swampy area beyond
Fiumarolo. 'A'Tp. got in alright, but by the time 'B'Tp. arrived their
position had been occupied by a squadron of Priest tanks.
228 Btv then moved forward to Aquino, and 227 Bty. came
close by and the guns were all together aeain. The next day we crossed
the Melfa river hoping for a position near Coldiagone but without success.
The speed at which our troops were advancing was now becoming apparent.
In this fast-moving chase it was essential that gun positions at each
move were as close as possible to our forward troops, otherwise by the
time our guns got into action, the enemy would be out of range - in
spite of the fact that the maximum ranges for the 5 S guns was 18000
yards and the 4.5 guns 21000 yards. When the position at Coldiagone
was being reccied, the field artillery were firing on the enemy at a
range of 4500 yards!
May 29 saw us on a long dusty ride through Ceprano and eventually 228
Bty _ went into a position near Polpi. Then 1 and 2 June saw 227 Bty.
in position at Tomce and 228 Bty. at ^osinone. Then on 3 June, another
longish journey through Frosinone to Alatn, where we stayed for several
days (those of us who were somewhat cynical said that ttos was to allow
the Americans to have the credit for taking Rome without any help from
the 8 Army).
On 8111 June we pushed on again and went through Rome, where some enemy
bombing took place without doing any damage.