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2nd Battalion Scots Guards F Company Report 6th – 11th November 1943 (1st Battle of Monte Camino)

“F” Company November 6-11-1943

The battalion left the chestnut wood north of Roccamonfina on November 6th to move forward in support of the 6th Grenadier Guards who were to attack Point 727 on the mountain above Calabritto. F Company moved at 2300hrs behind Right Flank. When Battalion HQ, Right Flank, F Company and G Company halted and took up position for the night, F Company were ordered to take up a position on the left flank of the 3rd Coldstream Guards. In order to be sure of finding the Coldstream Guards in the dark, we followed their telephone line which ran across difficult country and we eventually arrived at their Battalion HQ after a tiring two miles or so, in which 1 Platoon in rear got lost but later caught up with us.

We took up position in the dark, round the top of a large pit some 400 yards to the west of the 3rd Coldstream Guards Tac Battalion HQ and got settled in by about 0400 hrs 7th November. During daylight it was impossible to move about outside the pit without being observed by the enemy on the hill to our front. At this time, the enemy were dropping several shells quite close. Early in the morning it was possible to see through glasses the Grenadiers getting to their first objective (Point 727), without as it seemed to us, much opposition.

We spent all day in the pit and late that afternoon we were ordered to be prepared to meet the remainder of the battalion, prior to the whole of the battalion going up the mountain. We were also to send a party of men back to Battalion HQ to bring up our next day's rations. These were sent but only five men returned with a rum ration and four boxes of Compo instead of ten. In the meantime, a written order was received that F Company was to proceed up the hill by itself as soon as ready and that it would meet the remainder of the battalion at the top of the hill. A subaltern and a Guardsman of the 6th Grenadiers turned up and told us they would act as guides, for which we were most grateful, but we delayed leaving the pit as long as possible in the hope that the remainder of the ration party would turn up with the rations. This they failed to do and the company left the pit at approximately 2230 hrs 7th November. It had started to rain hard at about 1600 hrs that evening and continued with occasional breaks throughout the night, with the result that most of us were soaked through before starting up the mountain. The rations were split up and each man carried a greatcoat but no blankets, in addition to the usual equipment.

The Grenadier guides showed us the way up what is known as "The Barearse Face" of the mountain. We started the ascent about 2330 hrs in single file. The going was terrible hard, mainly over great sharp-edged boulders and sometimes long grass growing amongst it; one had to choose each foothold and sometimes climb with hands and knees. It was necessary to have frequent rests. Two hundred yards or so was as much as we could manage at a time, especially towards the end when we were all getting very tired. There were heavy rainstorms most of the way up and a biting cold north wind.

The company eventually arrived at 6th Grenadiers Tac HQ just below Point 727 at about 0400 hrs on the 8th of November. One Guardsmen fell out sick before we commenced to climb the mountain, otherwise the company was intact. There was no sign of the battalion and the Commanding Officer of the Grenadiers ordered the company to take up a position covering his HQ. This meant that the company was on a forward slope facing mainly west and south-west. The men had just time to build a very rough stone sanger around themselves before daybreak and from then on there could be no movement on the forward slope without being observed by the enemy and probable drawing their fire. It was bitterly cold and wet and we made a poor breakfast owing to the shortage of rations.

The situation, as we learned it from the CO of the Grenadiers was that the enemy had been active and aggressive with his patrolling causing many casualties, and had succeeded in getting a Spandau post or two into position from which they could cut communications by runner and supplies etc. reaching two of their forward companies, (probably No. 2 and No. 3 Companies). In addition, there had been a good deal of mortaring and spandauing. We also learned that the remainder of 2nd Scots Guards would not be coming up the mountain at any rate that night. In the meantime, F Company were to remain under the command of the Grenadier Guards.

About 1230 hrs 8th November, No. 11 Platoon was ordered to report to OC No. 4 Company to help in winkling out a troublesome Spandau etc. No. 11 Platoon proceeded at once, under cover of a thick mist which concealed them from view and enemy fire, to No. 4 Company. On arrival OC No. 4 Company told me that I was to go forward with my platoon alone to clear an indefinite and unlocated number of Spandaus which might be as many as four or five, to clear a small wood; take the small pimple and support and reinforce No. 2 Company, who were on the big pimple. There was a thick mist and it was possible only to get a fleeting glance at the ground when the mist listed for a few seconds. However, it was at once apparent that this job was too much for a single platoon. OC No. 4 Company agreed with this and so I left 11 Platoon spread out around his HQ and went back to report the situation to F Company Commander and if possible, get more help.

On arrival back at Grenadier Tac HQ I found OC 2nd Scots Guards there with F Company commander to whom I reported the position. It was then arranged that the whole of F Company should attack after last light and remain with and reinforce Nos. 2 and 3 Companies.

At about 1600 hrs news came through on the wireless that No. 2 Company (holding the pimple) were on their last legs and might have to give in at any moment. F Company was ordered to set off immediately and the Company Commander was given to understand that the Brigadier attached particular importance to the pimple (held by No. 2 Company) and that it must remain in our hands. The four F Company Signallers and No. 18 wireless set were left behind at Grenadiers Tac. HQ as the Grenadiers' wireless set was not working satisfactorily. Fortunately, it was getting fairly dark by the time the company got moving and we had no casualties crossing the forward slope. This had been shelled and mortared off and on throughout the day, the Grenadiers had several casualties and one man from No. 12 Platoon was killed and one wounded by a direct hit by a mortar in their sanger. After a quick recce from No. 4 Company's position, F Company was ordered to move off in the order 11 Platoon, 12 Platoon, Company HQ, 10 Platoon. There was a little moon and one could see some distance. It was fine.

No. 11 Platoon got into the wood below and to the west of the pimple and made contact with the Grenadiers there at about 1800 hrs without having encountered any opposition. On arrival in the wood a fixed line Spandau firing from the pimple straight down a track, wounded one man in the back (Lance Corporal Fordyce).

Captain Howard was in command of the Grenadiers here and he was holding a roughly circular position some sixty yards in diameter with about forty men and three other officers, this being all that remained of No. 3 Company and included some men who belonged to No. 2 Company on the pimple. The position held was about the highest part of the wood. the ground was very broken and rocky, and there was a certain amount of thin chestnut under wood growing in some places. The position as overlooked and under direct Spandau fire from the pimple about 600 yards away.

Captain Howard told OC F Company that he was uncertain whether or not any Grenadiers were still holding out on the pimple. It was thought to be very doubtful; there were however known to be some wounded including at least one officer there. He gave information as to the ground between this position and the pimple, explaining that a narrow saddle backed ridge some eight yards wide with coppice growing on it, joined our position to the right of the pimple, to the right or east of this saddle-backed ridge the ground was open and sloped away gently and offered no cover at all, to the left or south-west there was a little more cover, but there was a large open space circular in shape and some 200 to 300 yards in diameter surrounded by coppice. This had to be crossed before the pimple could be reached and was in full view of the pimple. As to the enemy, he told us about the fixed line Spandau firing from the pimple down the track, which had already caused us one casualty. He did not know the strength of the enemy but told us the Germans seemed to be using a small number of men with Spandaus which moved about and he could not be certain of any definite Spandau positions but there were lots of places all round his position where Spandaus had fired from. He told OC F Coy that in his opinion the best way to attack the pimple was straight along the track along the saddle-backed ridge, thence up the pimple, and he also considered it was essential that the saddle-backed ridge between the pimple and his present position should be held by one platoon.

OC F Company decided to put off the attack on the pimple until 0430hrs the next morning 9th November owing to the extremely tired condition of the men, this being their third night without sleep and they had had very little to eat that day. A recce patrol under Lieutenant D.I. Fyfe-Jamieson was sent out to find out as much as possible about the enemy and to try and locate the wounded. The patrol reported the pimple definitely held by the enemy, and it was thought by a fairly strong force. They did not find any Grenadier wounded.

That night rations and water for the Grenadiers, but none for F Company were brought up and all Grenadier wounded and stretcher cases were got away.

Meanwhile F Company was used to reinforce the perimeter of the defences alongside the Grenadiers as required. The result was the company, and in many cases the platoons were badly split up and at 0430hrs 9th November (by that time it was pitch dark, the moon having gone in) things were rather chaotic and it was found quite impossible to collect the company in time for an attack before first light.

At about 0445 hrs 9th November, I was ordered to take out immediately a patrol of some fifteen men of 10 Platoon, who happened to be available, and I was to be accompanied by Lieutenant Wheatley of the Grenadier Guards and a party of Grenadier stretcher bearers. My orders were to act as a covering party to the stretcher bearers who would bring away any wounded who could be found; and if no strong opposition was encountered I would take up position where I was and wait for the rest of the company to come up. The patrol set out at once; when it had gone some fifty yards and had reached the narrow coppice covered saddle-backed ridge with the large open space to the left, it was fired on by two Spandaus, one from immediately in front probably on the pimple, and one from our left probably somewhere by the far edge of the open space. In addition, a mortar opened up on us and dropped a bomb in the middle of us which luckily hurt no one. It became obvious that if we went on, we should have heavy casualties particularly as that open space would have to be re-crossed in full daylight. I therefore ordered the patrol to return.

OC F Company then decided that he would attack the pimple in full daylight after the men had had something to eat. Many of them were not properly protected by sangers as it was thought we would be moving almost immediately.

At about 0700 hrs the company commander sent out a recce patrol of one Lance Corporal and two men to try and find a covered approach round the north-west of the open area to the pimple. The patrol only got about fifty yards when they were shot at by a Spandau. The Lance Corporal was wounded and the patrol returned bringing the Lance Corporal with them. At about 0730 hrs heavy Spandau fire opened up on our position from the fixed line Spandau on the pimple, others gradually worked their way around unseen. As the field of view was limited in most cases to some twenty to thirty yards to the north and west of our positions and opened up from there, we were also mortared and snipers became troublesome and caused many casualties particularly if anyone tried to move about. This fire went on until about 0900hrs, when our position was attacked from the direction of the pimple and through the coppice covered slope to our west. We opened up with everything including 2-inch mortars and a good many Germans were seen to be hit. All this time we had gradually been losing men mainly from Spandaus and sniping. Of the officers Captain H.S.N. Rathbone was wounded and died soon after it, Lieutenant D.I. Fyfe-Jamieson was wounded, and out of the Grenadier officers only two were left unwounded. This left us with three officers in all. The Germans gave up this attack at about 1030hrs but the Spandaus, snipers and mortars kept on at us intermittently and gave little chance of moving men about or issuing more ammunition etc. About 1130hrs, after a comparatively heavy mortar and Spandau stonk, the Germans attacked again this time from up the west wooded slope and also through the woods to the south west of our position. Our men were getting very thin on the ground in this sector and ammunition short. Things began to look serious.

About this time communications were established on the Grenadiers 38 set with Grenadier Tac HQ. A message asking for reinforcements was sent. This time the Germans got very close up to our position, and they also crept up in dead ground from the direction of the pimple. This ground had formerly been commanded by three of our sections of which most of whom had become casualties and the remainder had had to withdraw back. The Germans threw a lot of hand grenades amongst us without showing themselves and called on us to surrender. This was greeted by loud cheers followed by 36 Grenades. The Germans then most unexpectedly withdrew, for no apparent reason except presumably that they had had enough. It was then about 1400 hrs.

The Boche gave us most welcome breathing space until about 1600 hrs, and during that time even the fixed line Spandau kept fairly quiet. This gave us a chance to reinforce some places with men from 12 Platoon who had not so far been heavily engaged, also to issue out our last reserves of ammunition.

At 1600hrs the Spandaus etc. started again as heavy as ever and it looked as if it was the prelude to another attack. However, after three quarters of an hour it died down and no attack materialised. We had no food at all left by now but the Grenadiers managed to give us a little of their rations. About this time a few casualties were caused by our own 25-pounders, dropping short.

We heard on the wireless the very welcome news that help was on the way from our "friends". This we took to mean either the Coldstream Guards or possibly the remainder of the Scots Guards, and also that the Grenadiers patrolling platoon was being sent to reinforce us and that it ought to arrive by 1830hrs that evening. This was splendid news and cheered us up a lot after what had been a trying day.

As soon as it was dark, we collected all the wounded, put some of them on the stretchers available and did all we could for them, this being very little. That night no reinforcements or food came and the Germans did not attack us though we knew they were moving about round us. Owing to the cold and length of time since they had been wounded, many of the stretcher cases died that night. It was terrible to watch and to know one could do little or nothing for them.

We all wondered what had happened to the help which had been promised and what was going on in the outer world. By about 0400 hrs 10th November it seemed fairly certain that no reinforcements were coming that night. Things seemed fairly quiet and it was decided to send back all the walking wounded. They were warned of the dangers, as we could spare no escort, and they were told that they could go at their own risk or remain. Some fifteen men and Lieutenant D.I. Fyfe-Jamieson left us, none of whom could fire a rifle or were of any further use as far as fighting was concerned. There was sufficient time before daylight to enable them to get back to the Grenadier HQ before dark.

As it got light on November 10th we were greeted by the usual old friend on the pimple and another one from the slope to the west of us, but they soon quietened down and except for occasional bursts remained quiet all day until the evening. Before long we began to near the sound of Bren Guns firing and it seemed not very far away. This raised everyone's spirits tremendously. We had had no news of what was going on as the 38 set was out of action and we did not get through on it until 1600 hrs that afternoon. However, all the men were very cheerful and amused themselves by making wild guesses as to what was happening. Afterwards we found out the Bren guns were those of Right Flank and G Company winkling out some Spandau posts etc. on their way up the hill.

We were all very short of food by now and many of us had had nothing to eat all day. However, we still held as a reserve two unopened boxes of Compo and we decided to keep these and issue them on the morning of the 11th, in case no reinforcements could get through again that night. That afternoon and during the evening our positions were shelled by our own mediums and 25-pounders but luckily no casualties were caused. About 1600 hrs we got communication on the 38 set and were told that the Ox & Bucks would be coming through us at 0300 hrs 11th November en-route to attack the pimple and that as soon as they had passed through us we were to pack up and proceed down the hill. A stretcher party was to come with the Ox & Bucks to carry down stretcher cases. We were also told that the Grenadiers patrolling platoon. which had been promised to us as reinforcements last night had met strong opposition on their way up to us and they could not get through.

On the strength of this most welcome news, it was decided to open the two boxes of Compo immediately and give everyone a good meal before going down the hill.

Shortly afterwards, Captain Adair, Grenadier Guards, with a small patrol got through to tell us this news verbally.

The rest of the night German patrols were very busy all round out position and there was a good deal of Spandauing etc. but no direct attacks. In addition, an occasional shell from our own guns was dropping amongst us.

The Ox and Bucks turned up at 0340 hrs on the 11th. They had no idea we were there and were very surprised to find us. One company took over from us and their company commander told us that their other companies were going straight in to attack the pimple. As soon as the relief was completed, we moved off down the hill. During the relief there was a good deal of Spandauing and as all our men had to pass over the skyline it was with considerable relief that we finally got down without further casualties. I reported at 2nd Scots Guards Tac HQ at the head of the mule track and then proceeded down the track to 6th Grenadier Guards Battalion HQ where we arrived at about 0700 hrs November 11th.

APPENDIX

Details of Personnel taken up the hill on November 7th and brought down on November 11th.


Taken Up November 7th

Brought Down November 11th

Killed

Wounded

Sick

Missing

Officers

3

1

1

1



Company HQ

19

13

2

3

1


10 Platoon

27

9


10

2

6

11 Platoon

31

14

1

3

2

11

12 Platoon

28

21

3

4




108

58

7

21

5

17

N.B. 1 "missing" man turned up a few days later who had left the hill without orders after a shell had dropped close to him.

In the Field 24th November 1943

(Signed) R.L. COKE, Captain, for OC "F" Company, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards.


The National Archives (TNA) WO 169/10170 2 Scots Guards