Lanciano to Cassino and Rome
14.3.44 to 8.6.44.

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 cleaning off!

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 was fairly
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 hands.

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 main approach
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.


Copyright © 2003, Chris Dunham . All Rights Reserved