2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment
The Garigliano Crossing
was perhaps the finest action fought by the 2nd Battalion in
the 2nd World War.
In January 1944, the
allies were held up in Italy on the Gustav line. The 10th
British Corps had the task of breaking through on the southern flank, from
the mouth of the Garigliano to Cassino, on the 17th January, to
pave the way for the Anzio landing on the 22nd January.
The plan of the 5th
British Division, on the left of 10 Corps, was to assault across the
Garigliano River, then advance and seize the high ground on the Tufo
feature, with 13th Infantry Brigade, 17th Infantry
Brigade was to land from the sea behind the enemy and advance up the coast
The Garigliano was about
50 yards wide, deep and swift-flowing between high flood banks. The river
plain was open, with ditches and drains. The Tufo feature was rocky,
covered with olive trees, broken up by stone fences, with small buildings
scattered along the slopes. A Reece Regiment was patrolling the river
The German 74th
Infantry Division had been in position for several weeks. Dugouts,
trenches, wire and obstacles had been constructed along the forward slopes
of the hills. Mines were plentiful and the line of the river was held by a
Division had recently been transferred from the 8th Army front
for this operation. Preparations were very thorough, and included practice
crossings on the river Volturno, firing all weapons, thorough reccee of
the crossing places, and assault crossing rehearsals. The C.O. Lt Col E.A.
HEFFORD gave out his orders on a sand model of the area made by the
intelligence section, and a six-page operation order was issued, with
large-scale maps containing enemy defence overprints in great detail.
THE ASSAULT CROSSING
On 17th January
the Battalion left its billets in TVCs, had a hot meal en-route, after
dark, and at 8 pm debussed and marched up to the F.U.P. (Forming up Point)
The 56th Division (Which contained the 10th Royal
Berkshire Regiment ), crossing on our left woke up the enemy, and the
Battalion was under slight fire while in the F.U.P., waiting to cross.
However the crossing went according to plan and B and D
Companies crossed and formed up on the open plain across the river.
A Company was the bridgehead Company, and C Company manned the
assault boats. When S Company dismounted and was crossing, mortar
fire killed the mortar platoon commander Lt MOORE, and wounded the carrier
Platoon Commander and several mortar men.
On our right the 2nd
Inniskilling Fusiliers, who crossed over half a mile up stream, met
stronger opposition and were held up. Several of their assault boats
drifted down to our crossing cable. The divisional Commander postponed H
Hour for two hours, to enable the Inniskillings to withdraw, and follow up
behind us. During this wait on the cold and damp plain, an enemy post
opened up on our left, but this was smartly attacked by the nearest
platoon of B Company, who took six prisoners, without suffering any
At 2 am on the 18th,
the Battalion advanced across the plain in night attack formation, in half
moonlight, well guided by the intelligence officer Lt J JACKSON. When it
reached the Ausente stream this was found to be a steep sided and deep
canal. Fortuneless a footbridge was found by B Company, by which the
Battalion crossed and reformed Justas the barrage opened up , and as the
sky lightened to the East, everyone pressed on to get up to the ridges
before dawn broke.
The barrage was so
effective that little opposition was met until the leading companies
reached Tufo village. B and D Companies found the enemy well
entrenched and for some hours fought in the houses, and in the end B
Company under Capt D CLARKE, held most of the village, but the enemy
occupied the Western end. D Company under Capt R.A.S. WARD soon
reached their objective, on the saddle between the village the point 156
ridge. A Company came up and took over the 102 spur from the carrier
platoon and C Company commanded by Maj D. E. BALLANTINE, (Later
D.E.R.R.) linked up with A and B Companies.
During the late afternoon
two companies of the 2nd Cameronians, the reserve Battalion
came up to attack the 201 ridge, the key to the Brigade objective, but
Some companies of the
Inniskillings crossed after the Battalion, and followed up the tape to
their objective on the point 156 ridge, but were counterattacked in the
evening and fell back to the eastern end of their ridge.
Many prisoners were
collected within the Battalion position during the day, and just before
dark three German Tanks attacked along the lateral road and railway, and
shelled Battalion HQ at short range. The leading tank was hit by P.I.A.T. fire
from the carrier platoon, and all three withdrew. Previously, during the
morning a German Ambulance had come along this road, and this was captured
by the Padre and the RAP.
On the Brigade right the
56th Division (Which contained the 10th Battalion Royal
Berkshires) was held up in the river plain, on our left, 17th
Brigade had landed but could not advance through thick mine fields and
under heavy gunfire, and so when night came only the Wiltshires and the
Inniskillings had reached their objectives.
After midnight, the anti
tank guns and carriers which had been ferried over the river, made a dash
through no-mans land and across the road bridge over the Ausente, and
joined the Battalion.
FIGHTING FOR THE OBJECTIVE
Later during the night of
the 18th/19th, 15 Infantry Brigade, the Divisional
reserve crossed the river and advanced through the Battalion to take the
201 ridge, and then occupied the Minturno ridge (Which was awarded as a separate
Battle honour) the next morning. A
Company and the carrier platoon then took over the 201 ridge, as by this
time B Company was down to 40 men. C Company occupied the 151
feature. The enemy having direct observation on the floating bridge
constructed where the Battalion had crossed was able to prevent the
evacuation of any casualties, and over 120 were held by the ADS behind
The day was spent in reorganizing
but the Germans brought up a Panzer Grenadier Division, and
on the 20th Counter attacked strongly. These Counter attacks
were held, but on the 21st there was heavier artillery support
and A Company on the key ridge, after sustaining several attacks was
eventually driven off on the 22nd. On this day however, the
Anzio landings was made, the Germans thinned out, and the Cameronians
retook the ridge. Only 31 men of A Company were left. Capt J POWER,
the company Commander, and two subalterns being killed. Only half the
carrier Platoon came out, but with all their weapons.
(Source Regimental Journal
The 10th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment
168 (London) Brigade
56th London Division
'The Black Cat Division'
The 10th Battalion, part of the famous 56th
'Black Cat' London Division effectively won two Battle
Honours over the same period of time. (Garigllano Crossing and Damiano)
They had been heavily engaged before the crossing of the river, The
Regimental History reads..........
Twelve hours before zero, the artillery
bombardment opened, heralding the new battle. For the recent drafts it was
a particularly awe-inspiring performance, as the shattering fire of guns
sent an unending stream of shells tearing overhead like the roar of
express trains. Even anti-aircraft batteries pumped long lines of tracer
shell into ground targets across the river. In launching the attack, the
division crossed the Garigliano on the battalion front, after which the
168 Brigade prepared to follow.
The Germans stout fighters that they were -
withstood the guns and offered stiff resistance on every hill. The battalion
crossed the river in the early hours of next day. To allow the London
Irish to concentrate for an attack on Castelforte, a company was sent to
Lorenzo, where they themselves were attacked. The enemy overran part of
the position and destroyed a platoon in their first rush, but an immediate
counter-attack restored the situation and the company continued to hold
The most prominent feature in the German
position was a pudding shaped hill called Damiano, it was a barren, inhospitable
outcrop of jagged rocks, standing over a thousand feet above the valley.
Its sides had an average slope of one in three. This would become the
second battle honour the details of which will be covered in the relevant
Platoon of the 10th Royal Berkshire Regiment, moving up to relieve troops
holding the heights of Calvi-Risorta Italy 1943.
OTHER UNITS AWARDED
|1st Dragoon Guards
||Royal Tank Regiment
||Queens Royal (West Surreys)
|Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
||Royal Scots Fusiliers
|Oxs and Bucks Light Infantry
||York & Lancaster Regiment
||14th London Scottish