IL 2/4 BATTAGLIONE ROYAL HAMPSHIRE AL PASSAGGIO DEL FIUME GARI (RAPIDO), 11-14 MAGGIO 1944
Data: 19/10/2013Autore: FRANK DE PLANTAListe: ARTICLES IN ENGLISHCategorie: Le battaglieTag: #maggio 1944, gari-rapido-area, uk, unità-reparti

2/4 ROYAL HAMPSHIRE BATTALION AT THE CROSSING OF RIVER GARI (RAPIDO), MAY 11-14, 1944

28 Inf Bde consisted of 2/4 Hampshires, 2 Kings and 2 SLI.

4 BR Inf Div had relieved 46 BR Inf Div in the mountains on the right flank of the Garigliano bridgehead on 17 Feb 44 in the area of Monte Ornito.  Here they remained until relieved by the French on 28 Mar 44.  They were withdrawn for a few days R&R and the start of extensive training with a special emphasis of river crossings.  From 6-20 Apr 44, 2/4 Hampshires went back into the line on Monte Belvedere to the north of Cassino before being withdrawn for a further week of river crossing and tank cooperation training.

On 5 May 44, 2/4 Hampshires returned to line, this time along the Rapido south of Cassino.  It was from here that 28 Inf Bde would form the left forward Bde of the 4 BR Inf Div, with 10 Inf Bde on their right.

28 Inf Bde¹s plan was for 2 Kings to carry out the initial crossing and secure an objective 1,00 yds from the far bank of the river known as Line Brown.  2 SLI would then follow through 2 Kings and secure a further objective known as Line Blue another 1,000-1,500 yds further on from Line Brown.  2/4 Hampshires, after completing their initial task of enabling the initial crossings was to cross and secure Line Red which was a bulge 2,000 yds deep.  Line Green, 1,500 yds beyond that was 28 Inf Bde¹s final objective.

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2/4 Hampshires, because they were already on the frontage of the river, were to establish two crossings over the river and to provide the ferrying parties for the two assaulting Battalions.

After 1800 on 11 May 44, D Coy 2/4 Hampshires set up and manned the control posts, check points and launching points on the river.  The river was 80 ft wide, deep and flowed at 12 knots.  Lt John Godbold ran the Y Crossing and, 200 yds further north, Lt John Rorich ran the X Crossing.

At Y Crossing, BHQ 2 Kings, their C Coy, D Coy, a Pl of A Coy as well as Vickers MMG crews from 2 NF would cross.  At X Crossing, B Coy and A Coy less a Pl and attached Vickers MMG crews from 2 NF would cross.

In accordance with Bde Orders, 2 Kings were to leave their Assembly Area at 2239, arrive at the boat assembly area at 2300, leave that point at 2309 and arrive at the river bank at 2339.  This would ensure that 2 Kings were clear of the approaches  to the river before the counter battery fire ceased.

The Regimental History of 2 SLI records that:

"It was believed that the opposition in the Gustav Line, close to the river, would be light and that the main enemy forces would be encountered in the Hitler Line, some miles to the north."

In fact, the Germans were well prepared and, despite a thick mist accentuated by smoke, brought a lot of MG and mortar fire onto D Coy and the situation was antagonised by 2 Kings being 30 minutes late at the crossing points due to delays  - just as the counter battery fire was ending.  This meant that the planned barrage had moved off beyond the German positions and gave the British troops no security from German counter fire.

The Kings Regimental History describes how:

"The enemy's local defence of the river line was well sited and powerful."

Some boats were swept away on the swift current and others were hit by arty. To keep control of the boats, it was decided to run them across the river and back attached to fixed lines.  Two of these lines were swum across by John Godbold himself as were two lines by John Rorich at X Crossing.  Pte Grainger swam the river three times between standing naked on the river bank for four hours under intense fire guiding 2 Kings into their boats . During this period, D Coy lost 26 men so C Coy were sent down to the river bank to reinforce them.  Between the two crossings, they got B, C and D Coys of 2 Kings across although A Coy was held up for lack of boats.

The tricky bit for 2 Kings was that, on the far side, they encountered stretches of barbed wire and scattered minefields all of which were covered by German defensive fire.  All Coys lost heavily.  B Coy stalled but D Coy reached its objective with only the Coy Comd and 10 men left standing before being pushed right back to the river.  C Coy lost so many men in a minefield that they too had to withdraw back to within 150 yds of the river. They could not be reinforced with support weapons because, under intense German fire, A Coy 2/4 Hampshires had been unable to construct rafts for ferrying carriers and anti-tank guns.

2 Kings were followed by C Coy and D Coys of 2 SLI at 0300 on 12 May 44 passed through the three Coys of 2 Kings and reached a road 400 yds ahead. Here they came under heavy fire from German MGs and dug in.  The momentum of the attack, so important to success, had been lost although they did have a firm base.

With dawn, the ferrying operation was abandoned and D Coy were withdrawn ­ along with the bridging operations at Amazon, Blackwater and Congo and the Battalions in the bridgehead were pinned down.  The order for 2/4 Hampshires to cross the river was cancelled.

After the battle, it was possible to study the German positions and the Kings Regimental History records:

"The preparatory bombardment had not had so devastating an effect as had been anticipated, and as soon as the barrage lifted, the well protected defenders came up out of their shell-proof dugouts and occupied their excellently sited positions.  The 2nd Battalion's two crossing points were completely dominated from these positions, while the troops stepping ashore on the west bank were met with enfilade fire from both flanks.  Moreover, the enemy positions were most difficult to observe, every natural feature being skilfully used and the earthworks well concealed by growing crops."

As the troops who succeeded in crossing attempted to move forward to their objectives, through wire and scattered minefields, they came under fire from three directions, the front as well as both flanks.

Map of the advance 2/4 Hampshires at Cassino – 13-14 May 44

HQ 4 Inf Div decided to concentrate its bridge building effort on Amazon and 2/4 Hampshires were transferred under command 12 Inf Bde and ordered to cross over at that point once the bridge was in.  They set off for the crossing point at 0300 but as a result of delays by other units, did not cross until 1330.  Once it had linked up with tanks of 17/21L at 1430, the Battalion wheeled left along the river heading for its original axis and objectives.

German MGs opened up from Square Wood but were dealt with by the tanks and by 8 Pl who took 73 PWs.  Lt Bowers was awarded a DSO for his action. The Battalion waded across the River Piopetta and continued the advance at which lots of Germans started to surrender.  A and C Coys on the left hugged the river bank and headed south towards the 28 Inf Bde bridgehead so as to strike the Germans from the flank.  B and D Coys on the right and away from the river, advanced up the slope beyond the River Piopetta and, having topped the ridge which had been their original objective, they pressed on.

By 1700, after driving forward all afternoon and clearing German position after German position, with infantry, arty and armour cooperating brilliantly, 2/4 Hampshires had cleared Line Brown across the whole of 28 Inf Bde's front and taken 200 PWs.  That night the Battalion dug in just beyond Line Brown.  The advance had re-established the link with the Coys of 2 Kings and 2 SLI stranded on the far bank and unable to advance.

The 2/4 Hampshire advance to Line Blue started again at 0245 on 14 May 44 as a silent attack with no arty barrage.  By 0700, after little opposition, Line Blue was reached and by 1200 the area was fully secure with the Battalion well established on a track between Casa Petrarcone on its right and Casa Pagezzani on its left.  In front of them, an easy slope dropped down to the River Piopetta 300 yds away, and 500 yds beyond the ground rose to their objective at Massa Vertechi.

GOC 4 BR Inf Div now wanted to push forward immediately on the left flank where 2/4 Hampshires were deployed, so conform with the dispositions of 8 Ind Div in their sector.

For the attack on Line Red, 2/4 Hampshires came back under command 28 Inf Bde and, at 1745 an arty barrage opened up in front of them.  At 1800, the four Coys crossed the LD and moved down the slope towards the River Piopetta.  Assault Pioneers rushed forward in support with a carrier loaded with light bridging equipment in an attempt to build a tank crossing but the bridge sank in the soft mud beside the river as was abandoned.  This meant that any attack up to Mass Vertechi would have to be done without armoured support.

Fortunately, 4 BR Inf Div were given 19 NZ Armd Regt at very short notice and they were pushed forward over Amazon in time for the 2/4 Hampshires attack.  Two troops from B Sqn were allocated to 28 Inf Bde and given to 2/4 Hampshires for their attack on Massa Vertechi.

For the tanks it involved crossing the Pioppeta on a scissors bridge which was in poor shape, having been hit during the day.  It collapsed when a tank was halfway over.  This tank was tipped into the stream, the next tried to jump the 8ft wide gap, but just failed to make it, and the third rolled over on to its side in the run-up on the opposite bank.

Luckily for 2/4 Hampshires, 8 Tp, going further down stream, tackled a temporary bridge constructed of green willow logs about four inches in diameter, plus a lot of lighter material.  By a miracle, three tanks got safely over this flimsy structure and pushed on in support of the infantry.

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Meanwhile, the Coys advancing down the slope ran into very heavy German defensive fire and lost more than 100 men in two minutes.  As a result, the attack started to lose momentum and it took the CO, Bn 2IC and RSM to rally the Coys and lead them across the Piopetta in the teeth of fierce fire. With tanks ahead of them, and supported by more B Sqn tanks on the near side of the river and inspired by the leadership of OC B Coy capitano R. Wakeford on the left, an action for which he won a VC, 2/4 Hampshires regained their momentum and secured Massa Vertechi by 1830. The night of 14-15 May 44 passed uneventfully as did the 15 May 44 other than a bit of shelling that wounded the CO.

For this one action, 2/4 Hampshires suffered 150 casualties and so, in the early hours of 16 May 44, it was withdrawn to a rest area at Piedimonte d'Alife.

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