THE WAR IN ITALY.
Rome to the Arno Valley
8.6.44.
to 1.9.44

Driving through Rome, we carried on up the Via Flaminia to Civita Castellano, near Field Marshal Kessdring's HQ Soon after noon on 12 June a position was prepared for 228 Bty at Basanello, where D Tp Transport received casualties and damage, and another one for 227 Bty at Celleno. At this position there was a considerable number of German dead, knocked out guns and vehicles. First thing next morning a position was prepared for 228 Bty to come in beside 227, but it was never used as another position was prepared for the whole regiment near a former German Ordnance Depot at Civitdla.

This pattern continued with positions occupied south ofCastiglione, then north of the
same town on the 14th, Orvieto and Ficulle on the 15th Vicinova on the 16th, Colle on the 17th Biagio on the 19th Piegaro on the 20th and Strada on June 21. Here we were held up by greatly increased German resistance around Lake Trasimeno which brought the advance to a temporary halt. During the early morning at Strada the recce party came under fee from German mortars and Nebelwerfers.

Near Citta delta Pieve, BC 228 Bty was wounded and his jeep captured. L/Bdr. Caton
who was with his party, showed great courage and initiative as a result of which it was
possible to rescue the BC. He also attempted to recover the jeep. For this action he was subsequently awarded the MM. In the severe fighting which followed, the regimental and troop OPs were almost continuously committed, often under the most difficult conditions. Great assistance was rendered in neutralising German artillery and mortar fire, which proved unusually heavy. Here "C" Tp lost their Signal NCO, L/Sgt.Graham, who was captured when the house in which he was sheltering was taken in a surprise night attack.

When 78 Div. pulled out of the line, the regiment went over to the support of 4 Br Div
and 8 Ind Div. in the battle for Arezzo. Here the tale was one of slow and steady progress with few outstanding incidents. On one occasion 'D'Tp was shelled, and 'C'Tp .OP party ran into a number of Germans and had to lie up all day with two of the party wounded. They finally extricated themselves after dark.

We found the area around Lake Trasimeno to be most attractive, and the lake itself was very pleasant. While in the area some of us found it possible to visit the university town of Perugia, and also the town of Assist, forever associated with St.Francis, founder of the Franciscan Order. Accustomed as we were to visits from various VIPs, here we had a rather unusual one. This was the Very Rev. Dr. Stephen Woods, Bishop of Lichfield. In the nearby spa town ofChianciano Terme, housed the ballroom at one of the Hydro hotels to confirm over 50 young soldiers of the 8th Army, a most impressive service.

Next 227 Bty were able to move up to Santatucchio. Nearby was Castillo Montilaro, a
small town perched on a hill which may well have been the setting for the well-known story of the Italians hiding their wine in a cave on the hillside and so saving it from the Germans - we also failed to find iti. That evening, 29 June the recce party was off again to Ranciano, a longish trip. The positions were prepared, and two troops of Heavy AA guns were surveyed in, and in fact that same night we were subjected to an enemy air raid.


The evening found the recce party surveying a position at Piano. Having finished this
they got back to R.H.Q. just before midnight to be told that the position would not be used, and to be ready at 0400 hours for another recce. Even these few hours were interrupted by another air raid! The next recce proved to be a long one. It was to be in the Pozzuola valley but even the best positions available were badly overlooked by the enemy, on top of which the terrain was bad and even a jeep got stuck in one stream and later one of the AEC gun tractors was stranded. Then, that same afternoon, off to Puracci for another position for 227 Bty. and to Paraga for 228.

These positions were occupied for a week and gave us a little respite from some strenuous days on the move. Stiff opposition was being met and it was not until 9 July that we were able to move the guns up to Oliveto, where they were again in action for seven days.

On 19 July we were able to carry out gun calibrations. Trigonomical data on some datum points were obtained from 3rd Survey Regt., and from the O.P. it was possible to observe 228 Bty. standard guns firing on Capo di Monte.

The following night a big attack went in and the regiment fired heavy concentrations on enemy positions. The Germans replied but the attack was successful, and on 16 July the regiment moved forward to Tuori, thus bypassing Arezzo to the west. On 21 July the recce went to Montevarchi, and on the next day to Montaia. This position was occupied for several days, and once our regiment surveyed in the H.A.A. and provided them with bearing points. More datum point shooting went on on the 27th, and 'C' Tp. pivot gun was found to be a long way off target and it took 25 rounds to range on to a house in the valley. This proved the importance of the C.O.'s insistence on frequent calibration. It should be explained here that a considerable amount of gunfire is controlled from an O.P., observing the fall of shot and directing the guns, by telephone or wireless, on to the target. However, the major part of artillery action in counter-battery work and support for attacks with concentrations and barrages is carried out by predicted fire; that is to say that the range and direction required is computed trigonometrically from the known position of the guns and the calculated or believed position of the target.

228 Bty's next position was alongside 227 Bty. in the position they had moved to at
Meleto on 30 July. The next couple of days were relatively quiet. On 5 Aug. we made a long move to the N.W. to an area overlooking Florence. We were met by handshaking Italians at Belvedere and eventually moved into a regimental position at Pellice, where we remained for eleven days.

Throughout the last battles through Arezzo and beyond the regiment operated as part of 6 A.G.R.A., and in support of 1 Br.Div. Now 453 and 504 Heavy Batteries came under command of the regiment and were surveyed into positions nearby. The next day, 227 Bty. and the two heavy batteries moved forward to Grassino, east of Florence and just south of the Amo river. Here 227 Bty. and 504 Heavy Bty. were subjected to a certain amount of heavy shelling and Gnr.Bland was killed. The next day 228 Bty. moved in to Ruballa.


Sunday 20 Aug. started with the fixing of targets for demonstration shoots for a visit that day from the Prime Minister, the Rt.Hon. Winston Churchill, accompanied by Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander and the 13 Corps Commander. They visited 'A' Tp. position where the Prime Minister autographed a shell which was fired at the enemy.

and then went up to the O.P., and on arrival there the C.A.G.R.A. told Churchill that we had 100 guns ready to fire. He then took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, lit a large cigar and said, "Now this is like sending a rude postcard and being there when it arrives. FIRE!."

Two days later we had another visit, this time by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and Field Marshal Alexander. They came to R.H.Q., later going to the O.P.

The enemy put up stiff resistance on the line of the river Amo and the Fiesole ridge
beyond. The regiment remained in action in the Ruballa/Grassina positions for two weeks. In the meantime Florence was occupied by our troops and on 31 Aug. the recce party crossed the Amo and a position was prepared for 228 Bty. at Terranzano. Next morning 227 Bty's position was prepared and the regiment went into action that day.

The following day the regiment moved forward to Poggio, on top of the ridge, north of
the Amo and east of Fiesole. R.H.Q. was sited in a wood of fir trees, and the effects of the battle for this ridge were much in evidence. After a certain amount of firing from this position, the battle passed out of range, and the regiment concentrated in the area for two weeks. The opportunity was taken for maintenance and relaxation, and a number of visits into Florence became possible.

While we were here naturally many of us wanted to see something of the city of Florence, which we found to be relatively undamaged and very interesting. In addition an hotel at Fiesole, a few miles to the north was taken over as a leave camp for O.Rs. and many of us had the chance of a little luxury, and, of course, hot baths and real beds to sleep in. But all good things must come to an end, and on 15 Aug. it was back to the battle.

HISTORY PAGE


Copyright © 2003, Chris Dunham . All Rights Reserved