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1st Battalion Irish Guards – Report by No. 2 Company on the night attack on 29th/30th January 1944

Night Attack Saturday 29th January No.2 Company


I have the honour to submit an account of the night attack and subsequent withdrawal of my own Company and of No. 1 Company while it is still fresh in my mind, which may be attached to the War Diary and possibly be of use in completing the Regimental History after the War. As far as possible with the latter consideration in view I have mentioned names, particularly of those who did outstanding work.

During the morning of the 29th Company Commanders were sent for and ordered to go up to an OP, in the area of one of the Scots Guards localities. The plan was explained. The object was to capture and hold the road running across the main road, No. 2 Company on the right, No. 1 Company on the left, No. 3 Company to provide left flank protection and No. 4 Company to provide depth on the railway line. On the capture of the objective, which was the to be the start line of an attack by the 3rd Infantry Brigade at 1200 hrs on the 29th, No. 2 Company had to contact the Scots Guards on the right and No. 1 Company had to contact No. 3 Company on the left. As soon as possible supporting arms, including tank busters would come up, together with Company F Echelon transport. From zero minus 40 until zero there was to be an artillery barrage from 200 yards in front of the start line which should lift onto the objective. From the OP, already mentioned it was possible to see only a part of the objective and only certain areas of the ground to be crossed. There was little information of the enemy in this area. But it soon became obvious that there were enemy localities in the area because company commanders were strafed by German machine guns returning to their Companies.

Zero hour was put back three quarters of an hour and eventually the companies led off to the start line, down the railway in the order - No. 2 Company, No. 1 Company, and No. 4 Company. It interesting to point out here that ever sufficient time cannot be allowed for night movements, especially where companies have to move in single file. On reaching the start line companies got into their deployed positions. This was somewhat difficult as, first the noise was excessive and second many of the shells were falling very short. However, at zero the two forward companies moved off, both two platoons up on either side of the railway line. Both companies got about halfway when German lights went up and one machine gun from the left opened up on No. 1 Company and then from the front at No. 2 Company. On the right the ground was ideal for enemy machine guns, on the left there was dead ground which extended to about 200 yards to the left of the railway line. Fortunately No. 1 Company had made very good use of this on with one casualty reached its objective.

On the right owing to the reasons already given also again to the fact which soon became obvious, insufficient artillery support, things were not so easy. Machine gun fire was accurate and unfortunately severely wounded the right-hand platoon Commander Lieutenant H. Gillow and three or four non. Both forward platoons worked their way into a gully. Immediately Sergeant Murphy, platoon Sergeant of the right-hand platoon rallied his men and with cover from the left-hand platoon, attacked a small house on an old railway bed. The conduct of Sergeant Murphy's platoon in face of the veritable nest of machine gunners was outstanding.

Section commanders led their sections in a most daring manner, Sergeant Dempsey, Corporal Day on Lance Sergeant Cartledge particularly showing enterprise and dash. This platoon took one post, which consisted of one machine gun and two rifle posts in the front of the house, the left-hand section swung round on the left and took another post. The remainder of the platoon was advancing led by Sergeant Murphy when another machine gun, as yet undetected but situated about fifty yards behind the house with light machine guns and riflemen with grenades opened up at point blank range; the platoon fought it out, just short of their objective but the fire was too deadly and just short of their objective they were overwhelmed.

Meanwhile the left-hand platoon had pushed slightly forward on the left which actually was the enemys' FDLs, as it had passed a machine gun post full of enemy dead. The reserve platoon (Sergeant Gundel) had been pinned down behind and, shortly, further fire was opened up on the two remaining platoons by enemy machine guns from the right, the objective of the left-hand Company of the Scots Guards. Sergeant Gundel, cut off from the Company Commander, together with rear Company HQ, wisely decided to get on the left of the railway line as they could not go forward. The left-hand platoon, Lieutenant C. Brand, with advanced Company HQ, then took the only course available, which was to pass round the left and get up to No. 1 Company. Except for a tussle with an invisible German grenade thrower, which wounded Sergeant Wylie in the cheek, this was successfully done. They linked up with Sergeant Gundel's now weak platoon and the Company Commander got through on the wireless to Battalion HQ.

No. 1 and 2 Companies now formed four strong platoons in the area of the sunken road which was the left of the battalion objective. It was learned that the left company of the Scots Guards had been unable to get up and so contact with them was impossible.

Both company commanders shared their HQ, as No. 2 Company's wireless went off the air. Digging was extremely difficult on account of the extreme hardness of the ground; it did not make things any easier when the noise of the approach of tanks became obvious. It is interesting to note here how the Germans use so effectively three or four tanks in the moonlight. Lieutenant Bartlett No. 1 Companys right-hand platoon was ordered to prepare a 75 grenade in order to prevent tanks coming under the bridge into the sunken road and so into the position. But there is no doubt that although the grenade did no great damage to the leading tank it did frighten them considerably and for the remainer of the time that the tanks remained in the area they could only be very unpleasant and not deadly.

Shortly Lieutenant Preston arrived with a small patrol from No. 3 Company. He later remained with No. 1 and 2 Companies as he could not get back to his own company. It was now getting fairly late and the fact that supporting arms could not get up became obvious. Contact was made with Battalion HQ, and the situation explained. Very little news was known of No. 3 Company and shortly afterwards the only remaining wireless went off the air. At 0600 hrs on the 29th just as it was becoming light the situation was not very bright. Too much praise cannot be given to Lance Corporal Holwell, who mending his wireless in the open and in spite of fire from enemy tanks, succeeded in getting in touch at about 0615 hrs when the force had orders to withdraw and link up with Battalion HQ, who were in the area of the Scots Guards. It was decided to take the obvious route back down the railway line. The companies were approaching this route when an officer came running with a revolver from the area of some buildings from the right. The German officer was duly killed, but the fire attracted a nest of machine gunners in the area beyond, Bren Gun covering fire was not very effective because of the long range and the companies received rather heavy casualties getting into the railway embankment, unfortunately CSM Gilmore who had been invaluable throughout was mortally wounded along with Lance Corporal Holwell who was killed.

Touch was made with Battalion HQ, again and the only help they could give effectively was naked for, that of providing smoke. The leading platoon - Lieutenant P. Da Costa led off with his platoon, again covering fire was not very effective because of the long range, and enemy machine gun fire very deadly. Lieutenant P. Da Costa was killed leading his platoon back. Lieutenant Bartlett took his platoon slightly left down a gully, this platoon also received casualties. Lieutenant Brand took his platoon with No. 2 Company’s HQ attached down the railway line. It is time now to mention admirable work done by Corporal Moriarty, No. 2 Company Corporal-in-command stretcher bearers. He had an immensely difficult time during the night attack walking under fire and collecting wounded in the pitch dark. He collected all the wounded and harboured them under the railway line. During the morning of the 30th Lance Corporal Moriarty again, with no consideration for his own safety, collected all the wounded, bandaged them and freed them of any pain, remaining with them all that day and night until they could be evacuated. He reported at about 2400 hrs on the night of the 30th as if he had been on a battalion scheme.

Finally the time came for the covering party to retire. Unfortunately Guardsman Taylor was wounded in the leg and had to remain with the wounded. Both he and Guardsman Montgomery did invaluable work by providing continuous fire for about an hour. German mortars and 88mm soon put down accurate fire on the railway line, one of which cut Major Sir Ian Stewart-Richardson on the eye, but he remained at duty, and shortly afterwards Lieutenant Preston was killed. It was owing to admirable leadership of platoon and section commanders, that in spite of what looked like a very ugly situation, a company could be formed immediately on reaching Battalion HQ, and that some of the men of both companies who had been captured had been able to turn on their captors and bring them in. Valuable information was given to the Officer Commanding the Duke of Wellington Regiment, who eventually was to carry out an attack with tanks at approximately 1800 hrs, with special reference to ground he had not seen and known machine gun posts.

Signed G.P. M. FitzGerald.

Major, Commanding No. 2 Company, 1st Battalion Irish Guards.