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1st Battalion Irish Guards – War Diary February 1944

Tuesday 1st February 1944

With daylight came renewed shelling by the enemy. That they had the exact range of our position was evident from the shell holes and the bodies of the previous occupants. The day was spent digging new trenches and improving old ones until the battalion locality was fortified as strongly as possible. An OP to the right of Point 115 was established forward of our positions. This was now manned by a detachment from No. 4 Company under command of Lieutenant M. White.

At this point there was every indication that the role of the Brigade and of the Division as whole would be, temporarily at least, a static one. The larger strategy, as it appeared, being to wait until the American forces on the right had drawn level and had captured Cisterna and then to make a joint push towards the Colli. During this interim period the Commanding Officer decided to take advantage of the opportunity to rest as many of the battalion as possible by sending back relays of officers and other ranks to B Echelon and replacing them for the time being by reinforcement personnel.

2nd February 1944

After a comparatively peaceful night, the day of February 2nd was a very noisy one including some heavy shelling and ground strafing by a Messerschmitt which wounded Guardsman Grey. During the night which followed an enemy patrol penetrated our lines and machine gunned the area of Battalion HQ. In the meantime, enemy infiltrations in the area of Point 115 and reported concentrations of troops to the north of it rendered our position then increasingly insecure. To counter this harassing fire the medium guns were brought to bear on the two houses in square 0637 while their staircases, which were on the outside, were covered by fire by the MMGs. This tactic proved most successful as the enemy bolted downstairs and were caught fair and square by the Middlesex machine guns. In all, the battalion suffered about eight casualties during the day.

3rd/4th February 1944

February 3rd was as quiet as the 2nd had been noisy. As it seemed at the time, and as it was later to prove, it was a bad omen. Throughout the hours of daylight, the only interesting event was that about a thousand sheep came in from the enemy lines past No. 3 Company's position. In the light of subsequent events this fact, insignificant at the time, may well have been a deliberate manoeuvre of the enemy to test for anti-,personnel mines. To our front the Dukes were attacked in the afternoon but with the help of some Shermans this attack was beaten off without great difficulty.

At 1800 hrs there was a conference at Brigade about wiring and mine laying. The question of the defense of Point 115 was also raised and of whose responsibility it should be. It was finally decided that the battalion should be responsible for Point 115 itself and the 3rd Infantry Brigade for the house on the right of it. This decision was soon afterwards confirmed with Brigadier James, commanding 3rd Infantry Brigade.

At 2130 hrs a Battalion O Group was held at which all company and supporting arms commanders were present. SOS and DF tasks were checked and confirmed, and arrangements made for permanent OPs by day and standing patrols by night on Point 115 and about Point 104. No. 3 Company had earlier been ordered to put an OP and standing patrols out on their front in the Point 104 direction.

At 2300 hrs dead an exceptionally heavy barrage came down, apparently concentrated in the battalion area and in the direction of No. 3 Company. This lasted for five minutes. It was obvious at once that this must be the prelude to an attack. Brigade was informed on the air and all DF tasks called for. Simultaneously the 4.2-inch mortars were ordered to fire their SOS tasks. This came down between the track on which Point 102 and the wadi bed north east of it; and linking up with the 3-inch mortar SOS tasks, which was also fired, all the ground in a rectangle up to Point 115. The artillery SOS tasks (Nos. 252 and 253) were temporarily withheld until the situation should have developed and were eventually called for about 2330 hrs. In the meantime, the enemy's barrage recommenced, lasting from approximately 2300 to 2313 hrs. But this time it appeared to have been lifted from the back.

No. 3 Company then reported Germans all around them and said that the enemy had broken through the broad gap between their own positions and the Scots Guards. This gap was covered by the machine guns in No. 3 Company's area, with a platoon of No. 4 Company (Lieutenant Harcourt) 'doing longstop' between the Scots Guards and No. 3 Company. No. 3 Company reported the strength of the enemy as "at least one battalion". In actual fact it seems fairly certain that the strength of the attack was not less than two battalions. At any rate, it is to be hoped that the battalion following up was properly caught by the 4.2-inch mortar SOS task.

At 2315 hrs No. 3 Company Commander, Captain O.F. McInerney, reported his HQ in an extremely critical position and this was the last news heard from him. His company was composed of No. 3 Company, the MMG platoon, a mortar detachment, three of our own anti-tank guns and two from the anti-tank regiment. The difficulty was to discover whether the whole company was in the same plight as Company HQ, and there was no means of doing this.

From subsequent reports, it appears that the enemy artillery was effective in neutralizing our positions until their infantry were within striking distance, who then, by sheer weight of numbers, overwhelmed the defenders. Some idea of the scale of the attack may be gained from Lance Corporal Fahy's account. This Corporal, who was with the machine guns described how the Germans "came in in a mass, very hard, thick and fast after the barrage and how the machine gunners mowed them down, but how they came on just the same.....". A second report which tends to corroborate Corporal Fahy's account was given by the crew of another gun (Guardsmen Flanagan, Nicholson and Maloney) These Guardsmen kept on firing until their ammunition was exhausted, by which time they had expended nearly eight thousand rounds. But nothing appeared to check the enemy who appeared to come on shouting and gesticulating wildly as if doped. It would not do to end this account without relating when they were right on top of them three of the Germans jumped into the machine gun post, shouting "Hands Up Englishmen". This was too much for the "Micks" and all three let fly with their fists. Momentarily bewildered the Germans were at a loss what to do, and by the time they had recovered their wits, the three Guardsmen had made good their escape.

With No. 3 Company gone the position was obviously serious as the gap between ourselves at the railway bridge and the Scots Guards was now something in the nature of 1200 yards. This state of affairs was explained to Brigade and the urgent necessity for reinforcement pointed out. Simultaneously the Scots Guards were heard passing on the same information and making the same request. Communications incidentally were not of the best as the Germans jammed the 22 set frequency. In their No. 3 Company battle the enemy made the great mistake of setting fire to a haystack, for this acted as a permanent parachute flare and each time they formed up for an attack in the light of those flames they were plastered by the gunners of the Scots Guards and the machine gunners of the Middlesex Regiment with us.

In the meantime, it was obvious that the Germans were infiltrating in all around us and that there was little that could be done to prevent this until dawn when it seemed that a couple of sweeps with infantry and a troop of tanks would clear the whole situation. No. 4 Company reported shelling of their positions and enemy voices and movement between them and No. 3 Company and between them and us. Three of the 3-inch mortars which had been moved further up towards Battalion HQ, so as to get them in a more central position, then went off the air and nothing more was heard of them. Meanwhile, red and white flares came up from the middle of our area which appeared to give the signal to the enemy gunners "more fire but I am now here". Green smoke and flares were also fired, so in order to create confusion we ourselves used to fire green flare about 30 seconds after the enemy fired their red and white. A cause for concern was our limited supplies of illuminating flares and companies were ordered to conserve these until the moon went down. In the area of Battalion HQ, an all-round defensive position was organised with the help of Lieutenants Jarvie and Sertz with their tank busters who were given the task of covering the road in front of Battalion HQ with their machine guns. Although this was no task for them they co-operated most willingly. By this time the Germans had established several machine gun positions in our rear and were firing from the east end of the railway embankment, and from the sunken road area halfway between No. 4 Company and Battalion HQ. Those guns wore always a nuisance but except that they made observation and movement more difficult, and except for the fact that there was a possibility that the enemy might get close enough to throw stick grenades, there appeared to be no immediate threat to Battalion HQ. And in the meantime, the reserve platoon of No. 1 Company was moved up the area of the railway embankment so that we could deal with the Germans in that area in the morning.

The tank situation was "Yes the tanks are coming, they should be with you at first light - how many? - a whole squadron". So with this assurance one felt confident that the whole situation could be retrieved in a matter of hours. Four tank busters were also promised an did in fact arrive before first light. It seems that even with all the explaining, that people did not fully realise our situation, as we were asked to send guides on several occasions. Captain R.N.D. Young and Lance Corporal Doonan did succeed in meeting the tank busters but were badly shot up in doing so as we had anticipated. These tank busters were as uncooperative as the others had been cooperative. Admittedly it was not their role but they made little attempt to help. The plan was to push two of them along with their machine guns on the turret to help No. 4 Company and keep the other two in reserve at Battalion HQ. Even with Captain Young in the turret beside the tank commander next to nothing was achieved. But it's hardly fair to criticize too much because it was definitely only nibbling at the task to send tank busters to do tanks work. So the situation continued until dawn with brisk exchanges of fire between Corporal Carr in a nearby house, Sergeant McConnell on the Bren behind a knocked-out 88mm, and the tank busters versus four or five enemy MG posts. The tank busters also fired on the enemy in No. 3 Company's area forming up in the light of the blazing haystack. The situation at dawn was so complex that it can best be described by a sketch map.

When light came the picture became a little clearer, and it was possible to form some plan of action. It was decided that if one troop of tanks came that it should move down the track towards No. 4. Company, with the platoon of No. 1. Company moving parallel with it on the right and the Carrier Platoon on foot moving on the left. This would have cleared up the bottom half, then with the Carriers coming back and mounting their Carriers they would swoop the top (No. 3 Company's area) with the tanks. Owing to the peculiar situation, to try and clear up posts with infantry alone was exceedingly difficult since to try and attack one post always meant that one was shot in the back by another. With the whole day before on and the tanks in sight on the other side of the road and in rear of the unit on our right, there seemed no object in wasting valuable lives in platoon attacks on MG posts when tanks word so close and soon to be available.

Meantime, in the area of the house north east of Battalion HQ, Tiger and Mk IV tanks began to appear. That meant machine guns firing from yet another direction and they also knocked out one of the tank busters. However, the other tank busters (the two cooperative ones) did great work. Tucked in under the railway bridge they were in a perfect position and any tank that moved to menace the troops on the right was immediately knocked out by this magnificent 3-inch naval gun. As far as we could see they accounted for three Mk VI and one Mk IV.

About this time an event occurred which was to have the most serious repercussions for ourselves and to render the position of the battalion infinitely more precarious. Whilst the Shermans could be clearly seen taking about a hundred prisoners in the rear of the unit on our right, in the forward positions a large body of men would seen to lay down their arms and go over to the enemy. There appeared to be no conceivable reason why this should have happened, particularly so as the Germans seemed to be totally unprepared for such a turn of events. Whatever the explanation; the alteration that this action made to the whole situation must be too apparent to need explaining, completing as it did, with the exception of Nos. 1 and 2 Companies area, the enemy's bid to encircle and isolate us. However, it seemed that if things happened quickly that the situation could be retrieved. There were as yet few Germans on the hill on the right, and it was pointed out to Brigade that if some men could be produced quickly from somewhere, they could re-occupy and hold it, especially as the tanks were close behind. In reply, the battalion was asked if it could undertake this task. There were at that time about forty men at Battalion HQ who could probably have re-captured the hill, but would scarcely have been sufficiently strong to hold it. The second alternative was to get at least a troop of tanks, and with those to clear up our site first, and then to send No. 4. Company to take over, temporarily, the hill in question.

Unfortunately, neither fresh troops came to deal with our right flank nor did even a troop out of the squadron of tanks arrive at the pre-arranged RV under the bridge, as ordered. Battalion was informed of this fact and it was pointed out, that unless our right flank could be secured within half an hour, our position would become untenable. In the meantime, a lookout was being kept for the tanks, but none seemed to arrive, and already the Germans wore establishing Spandau posts in their new positions and had begun to rake the railway bridge with fire. Back in Battalion HQ's gully the same guns were making life most unhealthy and it was decided to move to a position west of the railway bridge.

Whilst this was going on No. 4. Company had been warned to be prepared to counter-attack up towards Battalion HQ - which it was later ordered to do. The new position however on the other side of the railway bridge was not much improvement on the gully and, after consultation with Major Sir Ian Stewart-Richardson (No. 1 Company) it was decided that the best course would be to fight through to the Scots Guards and take up a position on their right. No. 4. Company were sent this message and No. 1 Company was ordered to warn No. 2 Company and the Middlesex machine gunners in their area.

As it later transpired, Sir Ian Stewart-Richardson was seriously wounded before he was able to pass on this information and the message never reached No. 2. Company or the machine gunners. Those machine gunners, under Lieutenant Mortimer of the Middlesex Regiment, fought most gallantly throughout the whole action and inflicted, as elsewhere recorded, very heavy casualties on the enemy, besides silencing seven enemy MG positions.

Battalion HQ and the Carrier Platoon had soon formed up in the road running north and south on the west of the railway line and with casualties occurring more and more frequently, it seemed no time for 'dilly-dallying' - 105mm shells were coming down onto the bridge and one of those accounted for about ten men alone.

In addition to this, an enemy tank had got into a position from which it could fire straight up the road under the railway bridge and had killed or wounded three men in No. 1 Company. The original plan had been for the carriers to go up the road and along past No. 3. Company's position, with No. 1 and No. 2. Companies combine, moving back in extended order west of the railway line with Battalion HQ in rear and No. 4. Company on the east of it. This now appeared impracticable with the tanks' 88 mm dominating the road (the tank busters had left by this time) and the prospect of going along the railway line machine gunned from all sides was a most unsavoury one. The only other way out of "what appeared a rather impossible position" was for Battalion HQ and the company groups to withdraw independently. This plan was eventually decided upon, and after informing Bo the withdrawal began.

From this moment onwards a series of events occurred, at first sight bewildering by their rapidity and apparent irrelevancy, any detailed account of which would spoil and distort the perspective of the whole. It is however possible to give a brief picture of what were for some of us the most eventful two hours of the whole campaign.

At the same time that Battalion HQ began to make its way back towards No. 4 Company, this Company under command of Lieutenant T.C. Keigwin had already begun the first phase of a counter-attack up to the former Battalion HQ position in the gully, believing this position to be still held and not having received the last wireless message to withdraw. Between those two small forces, moving in opposite directions and entirely unaware of one another, the ground was held by a scattered but numerically far superior enemy. It was, therefore, not long before both parties were involved in a series of hectic engagements. In every one of those local encounters, the Irish Guards were decisively victorious. No. 4. Company killed twelve Germans and took one hundred and fifty prisoners; whilst Battalion HQ led by Major D.M.L. Gordon-Watson M.C. accounted for another score either killed or wounded, besides several prisoners. Our own losses were, in comparison, negligible.

About this time the Battalion HQ party was involved in an incident which typified the state of flux of the whole battle. Owing to the narrowness and many twists of the gullies which led south, the party had to move in single file, and it so happened that while the head of the column was putting Germans to flight and taking others prisoner, the rear found itself surrounded and out off by more of the enemy. This half of Battalion HQ now found themselves prisoners and were compelled to turn north again and march up past the railway bridge towards the Foresters positions. Quite rightly the Foresters began shooting across the front of the party, which was very mixed, to prevent the Germans getting through. The position was so ludicrous that Captain S.H. Combe picked up a rifle that was lying on the ground and shot his own particular guard. He then picked up a Tommy gun and killed five more. In the end, of the thirty guards, twenty were killed and nine prisoners handed over to the Foresters.

The "Micks" and others broke and ran; most under Lieutenant John Bell stayed and fought it out with the Foresters. Captains Combe and Young, Lieutenant Grace, Major Streatfield MC, Royal Artillery, and a Forester's officer with ten Guardsmen and a few others, then went south back down the railway, and once again reached the railway bridge where they found two carriers still intact. Those they piled into and going flat out up the track past the No. 3. Company positions reached the Grenadiers lines.

Meanwhile what remained of the original Battalion HQ party - 'the head of the column' consisting only of the Second-in-Command, Lance Corporal Dodd, Lance Corporal Cross and Guardsman O'Shea DCM, had made good progress and had been fortunate to contact No. 4. Company coming in the opposite direction along the line of the main road. It was obvious that any further advance of No. 4. Company would be most costly and could effect little by itself. The Second-in-Command ordered Lieutenant Keigwin to withdraw to a position behind a bank near the RAP.

Simultaneously with the events described Nos. 1 and 2 Companies, under Lieutenants Vesey and Aikenhead had started to fight their way back east of the railway. The fire was very heavy here and it is to be feared that casualties from MG fire and from the 88 mm on the track firing under the bridge must have been high. Out of a combined total of about two hundred and sixty men, only half of them reached safety.

Finally, there is little more to tell. No. 4. Company remained in position as a firm base, whilst the London Scottish attacked and the battalion reformed that night in reserve behind the Grenadiers. Our own casualties which reached hospital during the day numbered three officers and forty ORs wounded.

4th February 1944 - B Echelon

Back at B Echelon the first repercussions of the events at the front began to make themselves felt at about 1300 hrs when Major G.P.M. FitzGerald received a message from the Commanding Officer, who was at Brigade at the time, instructing him to form a company of all available personnel at B Echelon. This was done speedily and a new No. 2. Company was formed. A few hours later another message from the Commanding Officer arrived ordering the Supply Officer. Intelligence Officer and new company complete with officers to concentrate in what had formerly been Battalion HQ and was, in fact, about a mile behind our own original HQ at the embankment.

The battalion was to occupy a reserve position behind the Grenadiers and North Staffs, and there to reform. The actual site of this position was in and around a series of caves out deep into the side of a low hill which went by the name of the Cava Di Pozzo Cana and already partially occupied by Italian refugees from Anzio.

During the first hours of darkness numbers of men, who had escaped from the Germans or had got separated from their companies during the battle began to come in.

5th February 1944

By first light, the battalion was about two hundred and seventy strong (including the reserves that had come up from B Echelon). This number was reinforced by a further eighty during the day made up of those who had found their way back to B Echelon during the night and from various sources. The Commanding Officer decided to try and make up to strength Nos. 1, 2 and 4 Companies, to be each about eighty strong and No. 3 Company was to be made up as soon as the men became available. The only operational commitment of the battalion at this point was the protection of its own left flank. The night passed quietly.

Monday 6th February 1944

During the day the battalion improved its positions in the area of the caves. At about 1100 hrs the Divisional Commander paid us a visit and from him we were able to in some idea of the general strategy. For ourselves this meant sitting-tight and being prepared to repel any German counter-attack. Emphasis was again laid on the main drive of the 5th Army and it was thought that a new offensive was about to begin in this quarter. Deficiencies in arms wore largely made up in the afternoon when an assignment of Brens, rifles and TSMGs was sent up. But losses in anti-tank guns and mortars were still to be made good not only in material but in men. In addition to our own local protection, we wore given a task in the form of a counter attack role on to the North Staffs who were in position due north of us. A recce was made of the route to and from their area just before dark by the Commanding Officer and Company Commanders. In the matter of our own defenses: No. 1 Company was allotted the locality of the yellow farm (known subsequently as Carrier Farm) on the high ground on the left; whilst No. 2 Company was mode responsible for the area of the caves. The former position was manned full strength by night and by one platoon by day (this position also included an excellent OP). At 2230 hrs No. 4 Company under Captain Drummond left the battalion area to come under command of the Scots Guards and to help to strengthen the defences north of the embankment, where they were allotted a position between the railway line and main road, and just to the north of Aprilla station. In the meantime, a warning order had been received from Division which said that there were indications that an enemy attack with tanks might be expected about 0400 hrs 7th February.

Monday 7th February 1944

The anticipated attack did not materialise and the night passed quietly. About 0400 hrs we receive four Prisoners of War, II Battalion 71st Infantry Regiment from the North Staffs, captured by one of their patrols. From one of these who spoke English and was very willing to talk, we learnt that the enemy on our left was thin on the ground and their companies much under strength. The day passed with a rather ominous lack of activity, and all remained apparently peaceful until darkness fell again. And then at about 2200 hrs the North Staffs were heard on the air announcing an attack in strength by the enemy on their left flank.

2200 - 2400 hrs The situation in this sector - to the north and north west of us - rapidly deteriorated and the enemy was reported to have overrun all but one of the North Staffs company positions. Their Battalion HQ also reported themselves to be surrounded although still operating. The threat to our own forward and left-hand positions thus became very real and a general stand-to was ordered. Every man capable of bearing arms and not urgently required as a runner or signaller was allotted a defensive position and all the entrances to Battalion HQ and company positions in the caves were blocked.

Tuesday 8th February 1944

AM Soon after midnight the situation at the North Staffs HQ, was reported to be very critical and the battalion was asked to send a company to reinforce them, In view of No. 4 Company's commitment with the Scots Guards and our already very stretched defences, the Commanding Officer was most unwilling to let go another company. One did however set out soon afterwards, two platoons strong, under command Captain C.D.P. O'Cock. As a result of the confused situation in the North Staffs area it was sometime before No. 1 Company was able to establish contact, but the last information received indicated that this contact had been made with the left forward company of the North Staffs and that this was in accordance with the wishes of their Commanding Officer. There was no further contact of any sort between Battalion HQ and No. 1 Company. About the same time that No. 1 Company set out to the relief of the North Staffs on our left, our right flank was being reinforced by the withdrawal to posts south of the bridge of the 504 US Parachute Regiment. Contact between ourselves and the Americans was immediately established by means of line telephone. In the meantime, the Grenadiers on the line of the railway bed were being engaged from all angles with the enemy endeavouring to isolate their company positions and to break between them and us and to cut the main road. This attempt was not successful and no Germans reached the main road. They did however hold on to the positions they had reached as a result of their initial infiltration, and thus provided a menace to the Grenadiers rear and our own front. To restore this situation it was decided to make a sweep of the battle area with two companies of the 504 Parachute Regiment, and about a squadron of British tanks. The battalion, such as it was, was to provide the cover for this operation supported by several US self-propelled guns which had been placed under our command. At approximately 0600 hrs the final arrangements were made, and the Commanding Officer had made contact with Colonel Freeman of the paratroops and the Colonel of the tank regiment. Just before the first light of a red dawn, the tanks passed along the main road and took up a position in the neighbourhood of the bridge. Fairly soon afterwards the 504 Paratroops moved up in support. Fighting continued throughout the day, the paratroops doing excellent work and establishing contact with the Grenadiers before mid-day.

1330 hrs Meanwhile on our left the ground was still hell by the enemy. To clear up this situation a counter attack was launched at 1330 hrs against the old North Staffs position by the Foresters on the left and the KSLI on the right. The results of this counter attack were not very clear and it was sometime before the new dispositions of these two battalions of the 3rd Infantry Brigade wore confirmed.

Night By nightfall the fighting had quietened down and an opportunity was provided for the forming of a rough defensive line south of the railway composed of ourselves, the paratroops and what remained of the Grenadiers. No. 2 Company moved forward and right of Battalion HQ, and took up a position about 2 am 9th February around 'Ration Farm' and provided the link between ourselves and the paratroops.

8/9th February 1944

In addition a mobile patrol was provided by what remained of the Carrier Platoon under Lieutenant Boyd with the task of patrolling up and down the main road and liaising between the paratroop HQ at the level crossing, a couple of hundred yards east of 'Ration Farm', and the main force of paratroops in the area of the embankment. Rather unexpected an intensification of enemy shelling began about 2 am - in preparation it seemed for another attack by infantry. This however did not materialize and after a time the shelling died down.

Wednesday 9th February 1944

From 0245 hrs until daylight there was comparative quiet. About breakfast time shelling recommenced and continued intermittently throughout the day. For the first time since we arrived in the caves the enemy began to fire air-bursts. These were effective in killing Sergeant O'Connell and wounding slightly Lieutenant A.N. Bell in an OP position in Ration Farm. The arrival of a couple of tank busters brought down an increased fire on the area of Battalion HQ which continued until they withdrew and took up a position in some dead ground in the area of Carrier Farm.

Apart from this artillery activity the day was uneventful in our sector.

Wednesday/Thursday 9th/10th February 1944

During the night there was little activity south of the embankment, but north of it and particularly in the area of the Scots Guards the enemy, supported by tanks made a fierce attempt to gain ground, and the situation remained confused. With the coming of daylight the situation seemed to have improved, although it was learned that the 'factory' at Carroceto had been re-occupied by the Germans. The day was marked by a rapid deterioration in the weather and for almost the first time since the landing, rain began to fall heavily making the ground outside the caves very thick and heavy with mud. During the morning the Scots Guards and Grenadiers combined their HQs behind the embankment.

In the afternoon the Divisional Commander paid another visit to the battalion and had a long talk with the Commanding Officer.

Just before dark, the battalion sent out a small patrol to investigate an Italian farm to the south of our position, under the guidance of an Italian civilian who alleged that it was occupied by Fascist officers operating a wireless transmitting set. The patrol returned about 1900 hrs but had been unable to find the Fascists.

The night of the 10th/11th was again a fairly quiet one for the battalion. In the earlier part of it the Duke of Wellington's Regiment began to relieve the Grenadiers and Scots Guards in the area of the embankment.

This relief was effected successfully with the exception of our own No. 4. Company. Owing to difficulties of inter-communication it had been impossible for the Scots Guards HQ. to effect satisfactory contact with No. 4 Company and inform them of what was about to take place. From subsequent reports, it appears probable that this company, which had for four days held an isolated forward position against repeated attempts at infiltration, found itself on the night of the 9th/10th February, cut off from the remainder of the battalion by the German tank and infantry attack, and was in the same position as Battalion HQ, being unable to establish contact either physically or by wireless.

With the withdrawal of the Grenadiers and Scots Guards into reserve, the battalion came under command of the 3rd Infantry Brigade.

Friday 11th February 1944

The heaviest fighting of the eleventh developed on the right where the 45 US Division made an attempt to re-capture the factory. Even so, the German gunners did not neglect to give us some of their attention and the battalion area was shelled at intervals throughout the day. This shelling had been becoming increasingly accurate and Ration Farm in particular was badly pasted, causing several casualties, including Lieutenant A.N. Bell, this time seriously wounded.

During the day two small patrols were sent out. The first of these (Guardsmen Elliot and McCracken, No. 3 Company) was sent out to locate an enemy sniper who had been troubling the platoon in Carrier Farm. The second Guardsmen Montgomery and Adamson, guided by Vittorio, the Italian, made a second, and this time successful attempt, to locate the so-called Fascist spies. They returned to Battalion HQ with their prize - an unimpressive looking little Italian Army Captain, his aide, and an Alsatian dog. After a lengthy deliberation, the Adjutant decided not to shoot them and they were passed on to Brigade HQ.

Towards dark, the weather, which had been generally bad for forty-eight hours, began to improve and by the time the Quartermaster arrived with the rations, it had stopped raining although the ground was still very wet and inches deep in mud.

Friday/Saturday 11th/12th February 1944

At midnight all was quiet, but at 0230 hrs the Dukes reported that they were being attacked on the left of the embankment. By 0250 hrs their left-hand company had been forced to withdraw to a position south of the embankment. This meant that an attack on our own positions might materialize at any minute and the Commanding Officer ordered the battalion to 'stand-to'. At 0300 hrs DF tasks were called for, and for the next hour the position remained uncertain, but there were no further major developments. At about 0400 hrs our tanks moved up in support of the Dukes and the situation was partially restored. Half an hour later the Dukes HQ was transferred to the area of No. 2 Company's HQ at the west end of the caves. The next hour and half was spent by them in re-grouping and just before first light they put in a counter-attack on one of their former positions by the bridge at the embankment.

Saturday 12 February 1944

This attack was successful and largely recovered their old positions, the possession of which was not challenged during the remainder of the day.

The morning which followed was one of the quietest the battalion had spent in the caves. This may have been intended to give greater effort to the shower of propaganda leaflets which the enemy shot over at about 1000 hrs, urging us to lay down our arms. This was an amusing diversion which helped to pass the morning, and the leaflets themselves came in very useful, as the Commanding Officer pointed out, for purposes other than those originally intended. By way of immediate reply it seemed, several waves of American bombers, forty or fifty in all, flow overhead and a couple of minutes later could be heard dropping their loads in the direction of Campoleone.

During the afternoon we learned that we were to be relieved that night by the Gordons. The relief was complete by 2230 hrs without incident, and the battalion returned by march route to the flyover (Campo Di Carne) and thence by truck to B Echelon in the same woods in which we had spent our first night in the bridgehead.

Sunday 13th February 1944

Ever since the earliest days after the landing the battalion has had an operational role - and this without respite. As a result, although in good spirits, the battalion was extremely tired, and the first couple of days after the return to B Echelon were spent very quietly.

Monday 14th February 1944

At 1230 hrs the battalion was visited by General Alexander. He told us that he had made it his first concern to come and see the n as soon as he had landed. He also congratulated the battalion on its fine performance in what was a very tough slogging match and promised that the time would come when the enemy would be permanently on the defensive.

Tuesday 15th February 1944

After a noisy night with a good deal of long-range shelling and bombing of gun sites - which wore all too near at hand - another beautiful day came with a warm sun and blue skies. Those who had not already done so began to dig themselves in as far as the marshy soil would allow, reinforcing what remained above ground with sandbags, faggots, earth, doors from bombed houses in Anzio and whatever was available. Apart from this type of activity, the day was spent quietly. Companies held rifle and kit inspections and began to try and sort things out.

Wednesday 16th February 1944

Another very interrupted night's sleep was followed in the early hours of the morning by a bombing attack on gun positions and ammunition dumps to the south of us. About 1030 hrs the Brigadier (Brigadier Malcolm Erskine) sent for the Commanding Officer to reconnoitre a counter attack and emergency role which the battalion was required to fill immediately. This role was to stop any attempt at infiltration through the woods to the west, south of the Flyover, or alternatively to be prepared to counter-attack the positions of the London Scottish immediately south of the lateral road connecting with the Flyover, and about a thousand yards to the west of it. By 1300 hrs the battalion consisting of two composite companies - a combined No. 1 and No. 3 Company under command of Major D.M. Kennedy, and a combined No. 2 and No. 4 Company under command of Major G.P.M. Fitzgerald - with two mortars in support, had established themselves astride a track which ran north east across our front. Unfortunately, the ground was very low-lying and wet which made it impossible to dig in satisfactorily. Another drawback to the battalion locality was that it was situated directly in front of a very active troop of 25-pounders. However, there was no help for it and the battalion settled down as best it could.

Wednesday/Thursday 16th/17th February 1944

For sheer noise alone the previous night spent at B Echelon paled by comparison. Our own guns fired incessantly and the enemy's counter battery artillery grew correspondingly more active. An attack was also made by a small number of enemy aircraft which dropped bombs near gun positions on either side of us. As a result of the shelling, several casualties were sustained at Battalion HQ, including Guardsman Gilbert (HQ) killed, Lieutenant F.S. Collin (Signal Officer) and Lieutenant R.C. Taylor wounded, besides Corporal Kerr and Corporal Harrison also wounded.

Thursday 17th February 1944

Fortunately, another very fine dry day, and good use was made of the opportunity to improve and reinforce our slit trenches. During the afternoon company and platoon commanders made a reconnaissance of the route from the battalion area to the London Scottish. The situation there seemed to be satisfactorily under the control of a combined battalion of London Scottish and London Irish. From our point of view and the point of view of a counter-attacking force, the chief difficulty seemed to be the route between our two positions. For in addition to being a very long one, the only practicable path lay through low-lying brush covered woodland at several points ankle-deep in mud and at others almost impassable as a result of the recent rains.

Thursday/Friday 17th/18th February 1944

The night was suspiciously quiet, until, a few hours before dawn, the Germans began to range on our flanks with six-barrelled mortars.

Friday 18th February 1944

About daylight a further outbreak of shelling by the enemy caused us several casualties including Guardsman Irvine (Support Company) and one other Guardsman killed. This shelling continued at intervals throughout the day. Early in the afternoon, a reconnaissance was made of the route from the battalion area to the Gordons, and later the Commanding Officer, Intelligence Officer and Company Commanders paid a visit to the Gordons HQ, narrowly missing boing dive-bombed on the way.

Arrangements were made for counter-attack and emergency roles and for the most effective employment of our two companies if and when the situation should demand it. To all appearances, the situation was quiet and promised to remain so. But at about 2100 hrs the Gordons reported the threat of an attack in the neighbourhood of the Flyover and on the left of the road. As this threat appeared to be genuine the Commanding Officer ordered Major FitzGerald and Major Kennedy to move their companies over towards the main road and take up a position on the edge of the wood covering the Gordon's rear. The Commanding Officer meanwhile established a temporary OP at the Gordons HQ. A cable had already been laid between the Gordons HQ and our own and an additional one was then laid to Major Kennedy's HQ in the wood which was also to be advanced Battalion HQ. At 2230 hrs the Germans began to shell the edge of the wood on both sides of the road with unprecedented violence, and soon afterwards there were reports that they were making desperate efforts to establish themselves on the right of the Flyover. But in all these attempts they were resisted most resolutely by the Loyals. In the meantime, there was nothing for the battalion to do but to dig in as hard as possible, for the shelling had already taken a toll of No. 2 Company. But once again the ground was very sodden and it was impossible to dig down more than six inches without coming to water.

Saturday 19th February 1944

Shelling continued until nearly daylight by which time the fighting around the flyover had died down. The initiative then passed to the Allies and a very heavy barrage by our guns prepared the way for an advance by tanks and infantry of the 1st U.S. Armoured Division up the right flank towards Carroceto.

In view of this improvement in the general situation, it was possible to withdraw No. 3 Company from behind the Gordon's area to its original position. No. 2 Company however remained temporarily where it had been during the night until the machine gunners of Support Company had settled themselves in a suitable position to cover by fire the ground previously held by the two rifle companies - i.e. the road and flat ground between the edge of the wood and the flyover.

During the morning the American Armoured Division made fairly good progress on the right, and in our own sector the remainder of the day passed comparatively quietly.

Before nightfall the commitments of the battalion were further reduced and we were made responsible only for the defence on our area. In rear of the Gordons the position previously occupied by us was to be made secure by a unit of the 45th American Infantry Division.

Saturday/Sunday 19th/20th February 1944

A certain amount of shelling and bombing during the night, but none of it very close. By comparison, it was a quiet night.

Sunday/Monday 20th/21st February 1944

The day of the 20th was fine and passed uneventfully, as did the night following it.

Monday 21st February 1944

At mid-day the battalion was visited by Brigadier A. Clive, DSO, MC who had just assumed command of the Brigade. He first addressed Officers and NCOs at Battalion HQ and then went to each company in turn. He emphasized the importance of everyone having the latest and fullest information possible about the battle, from the most senior officer to the newest guardsman and promised that he would do all in his power to see that this was so. Of our own future, and the future of the Brigade he seemed confident. Our role was a static one and there was the prospect of being relieved in the near future.

It came therefore as a great surprise when at about 1330 hrs it was intimated that the battalion would be required to relieve an American battalion (II/VI) in the gullies on the left of the main road and north west of the flyover, even although there was the assurance that this change of plan had no operational significance. Owing to the very open nature of the ground no reconnaissance of our future positions was possible by daylight, and any sign of movement on our part forward of the wood instantly brought about an intensification of shelling. However, it was arranged that the Americans should provide guides on the edge of the wood to await Battalion HQ and the two rifle companies. Soon after dark the takeover began. No. 2 and No. 3 Companies and Battalion HQ moving up independently.

By 2050 hrs Battalion HQ had established itself along with the Americans at their CP in an over-grown hollow on the right of a small bridge. Up to this point, there had been no interference by the enemy but a few minutes later with the arrival of No. 2 Company heavy and accurate shelling began all around the bridge and on the flat ground above the hollow, causing a number of casualties including Lieutenant Harcourt seriously wounded. After a little time, the shelling stopped and No. 2 Company was able to push on again. In the meantime, No. 3 Company had been moving on ahead, and, following a small track, had all but reached its position, when by an almost incredible stroke of ill luck, it was spotted and bombed by a low-flying German aircraft. The effects of this attack were upwards of twenty casualties in killed and wounded.

It was not until after midnight that the relief was finally completed, and companies were able to report themselves in position.

Tuesday 22nd February 1944

Daylight came and it was possible to get a better idea of the ground. It looked flat, and featureless, except for a few battered houses and burnt-out tanks, and gave the false impression of being utterly deserted. The day passed slowly and only when there was movement did the firing recommence. The role of the battalion was essentially a defensive one with the task of blocking any attempt by the enemy to infiltrate either towards the Flyover or towards the lateral road behind us. Both these things the Germans made repeated and determined efforts to do - but without success, thanks not least, to the most effective co-operation of our gunners.

Tuesday/Wednesday 22nd/23rd February 1944

In marked contrast to the inactivity of the day, the enemy began to shell the battalion positions with an intensity greater even than that with which he had met our arrival on the previous night. This shelling, which lasted about an hour, reached its fiercest pitch around the area of Battalion HQ and the RAP. By 2130 hrs it began to diminish, and ten minutes later the Brigade Commander arrived with orders for the Commanding Officer to strengthen the battalion position. This was not easy in view of our greatly depleted numbers and the only possible solution was to consider Battalion HQ as primarily a fighting force and to move it up into a position alongside No. 2 Company in the gully. This course was agreed upon and the Brigadier promised to get together a platoon out of the remaining personnel at B Echelon and send it up immediately. Soon after midnight Battalion HQ, less the RAP, began to move out of the hollow. The move was effected at intervals in three lots headed by a small advance party with the Commanding Officer, a little later the Adjutant followed with the main body of Battalion HQ and after him Major H.L.S. Young with the wireless sets and gunner FOO. Just before the third party left the Quartermaster arrived bringing with him the rations, water and the reinforcement platoon under command of Lieutenant Chichester-Clarke. By this time, it was nearly 0200 hrs and as the situation did not seem favourable for the issue of rations it was decided to dump them in the hollow with the RAP until the following night. As we learned later the Quartermaster's truck got a direct hit from an 88mm very soon after leaving the RAP. Fortunately, however, the QM himself and the Staff Captain (Captain D. Hague MC) were together in the front and escaped with minor injuries, but the occupants in the rear of the truck, the majority of whom were Germans captured by No. 3 Company, were either killed outright or fatally wounded. Our own casualties were Drill Sergeant Rooney MM wounded, and Corporal Broadbent killed.

The transfer of Battalion HQ to the area of No. 2 Company proceeded satisfactorily and by first light a position had been organised and manned to protect the southern end of the gully the northern end of which was defended by No. 2 Company.

Wednesday 23rd February 1944

Another day came and No. 3 Company was kept very busy with a succession of attempts by the enemy to penetrate east and south east. In the area of the gully, No. 2 Company captured three Germans who had lost their way and wore hiding up. Spasmodic artillery fire caused a small number of casualties, and an unlucky shell, which fell in the gully itself, seriously wounded the gunner FOO and killed his batman. In the afternoon it began to rain and the water which had lain in the bed of the gully when we arrived rapidly mounted, swamping out low-lying slit trenches. As a result of the rain the batteries of the Brigade wireless set refused to work and the only communication with Brigade was through a spare 18 set operated by Captain S.H. Combe, at rear Battalion HQ, on the edge of the wood South of the lateral road. By this means we learned that an attack was to be put in during the night on our left flank which was to pass through No. 3 Company and clear up the enemy in this area. This attack was to be put in by the 2/6 Queens - known by the code-name of Devishes. This information was confirmed by Lieutenant G.K. Hood who arrived from Brigade at about 2000 hrs. This news was particularly important to No. 3 Company which had been in almost continual contact with the enemy since the night of 21st/22nd and had inevitably suffered a fairly high proportion of casualties. At 2100 hrs the rations, including the much needed wireless batteries, arrived at the RAP and were collected by a carrying party. On their return journey, this combined Battalion HQ and No. 2 Company party was surprised by an enemy patrol but succeeded in getting through.

Wednesday/Thursday 23rd/24th February 1944

The night wore on and there was no sign of the Queens but rather of renewed enemy activity and about 0200 hrs it seemed that an attempt would be made to isolate our position. In the meantime, reports from No. 3 Company indicated a similar development in that sector. But an hour or so later the Devishes had begun their sweep and had contacted No. 3 Company. After this the enemy apparently decided against any further offensive action, and the remainder of the night passed without incident. When daylight came the Commanding Officer of the Queens visited Battalion HQ and explained the dispositions of his companies. One of these had occupied a position near to No. 3 Company during the night, and this had enabled the Commanding Officer to send back No. 3 Company to the area previously occupied by Battalion HQ, thus filling the gap between our rear and the lateral road.

Thursday 24th February 1944

The gully was again shelled during the morning and there were several casualties. At about 1300 hrs a message was received in code which confirmed that the battalion would be relieved during the night by the Duke of Wellington's Regiment. After this the day passed with inevitable slowness, but eventually the light failed and at 1845 hrs, as soon as it was dark, the Commanding Officer and part of Battalion HQ returned to the RAP to await the arrival of the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Webb-Carter, DSO, and the HQ of the Dukes. This party followed afterwards by the remainder of the battalion, arrived at 2130 hrs and was shelled just as we had been four nights previously.

Thursday/Friday 24th/25th February 1944

By midnight the takeover had been successfully completed, although interference by enemy artillery had been very vicious and B Company of the Dukes had had several casualties before reaching the gully. In the gully itself, several shells had scored direct hits, causing momentary confusion which was magnified by the narrowness of the place, the congestion, and the fact that the mud and water was sometimes knee-deep. After a time, however, this shelling subsided and an opportunity was given to the relieving battalion to reorganise itself. This it speedily did, and No. 2 Company and the remainder of Battalion HQ were enabled to withdraw; first to RAP and thence back through the woods to B Echelon.

25th February - 7th March 1944

The battalion came out of the line in the early hours of the 25th February, and did not again take part in any active operations in the bridgehead. There were times, however, during the next ten days when it seemed very possible that the Brigade might be committed in support of 56th Division, and this appeared increasingly likely when the date on which we were to have sailed was postponed, and when the Grenadiers came under command of 167 Brigade. Fortunately, however, this postponement was not a long one and on 7th March the battalion embarked for Naples. Before sailing we were addressed by the Division Commander, Major General W.R.C. Penney CB, CBE, DSO, MC who bid us Godspeed and good luck. Referring to the part played by the 24 Guards Brigade in the bridgehead, General Penney applied the famous dictum of our Prime Minister that "Never was so much owed by so many to so few".

The National Archives (TNA) WO 170/1354 1 Irish Guards