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GARIGLIANO CROSSING

17th -31st January 1944

Unit Awarded Battle Honour

Subsequent designation

10th Royal Berkshire Regiment

Disbanded 1945

   

2nd Wiltshire Regiment

Merged 1st Wiltshires 1948
  1st D.E.R.R.
  Now 1st R.G.B.W.

2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment

The Garigliano Crossing was perhaps the finest action fought by the 2nd Battalion in the 2nd World War.  

Area of Operations 2nd Wilts  

BACKGROUND

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 road.

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 line.

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 strong screen.  

PREPARATION

The 5th 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 casualties.

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 ATTACK

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 were repulsed.

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 Wiltshire’s 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 Battalion HQ.

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 December 1958)

56th London div

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 their ground.

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 section.

  10th Royal Berkshires in Italy

A Platoon of the 10th Royal Berkshire Regiment, moving up to relieve troops holding the heights of Calvi-Risorta Italy 1943.

 

OTHER UNITS AWARDED BATTLE HONOUR

1st Dragoon Guards Royal Tank Regiment
Coldstream Guards Queens Royal (West Surreys)
Royal Northumberland Fusiliers Royal Fusiliers
Lincolnshire Regiment Royal Scots Fusiliers
Cheshire Regiment Cameronians
Inniskillings Hampshire Regiment
Oxs and Bucks Light Infantry Northamptonshire Regiment
K.O.Y.L.I. York & Lancaster Regiment
Seaforth Highlanders 14th London Scottish
18th London Irish

   

 
 
                             
 
                        
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