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1st Battalion Irish Guards – War Diary January 1944

Saturday 1st January 1944 - Canosa

Very wet and cold. This would have been a cheerless beginning to the New Year had it not been for the opportune issue by the Quartermaster of the long awaited Africa Star ribbon. The result of this was an intense sewing activity which lasted until teatime. After this there was an excellent concert given by the Regimental Band in the large barn which is Support Company mess.

Earlier in the afternoon Captain O.F, McInerney set out i/c ..........., secret location. In this connection a move order has been circulated today from which it appears that the battalion will move early on Monday morning.

Sunday 2nd January 1944

The ground has dried up considerably and the weather seems to be more settled.

Voluntary Church of England and Roman Catholic services were held as usual.

At 1100 hrs the Regimental Band played for half an hour on the football ground. All day there has been the usual bustle of activity associated with the battalion move. This subsided shortly before dark. All the vehicles have been loaded and the last arrangements made.

Monday 3rd January 1944

Breakfast was at midnight and soon afterwards the first elements of the Brigade began to move. The battalion. which was last in the Brigade convoy passed the start point at 0535 hrs. Just before we reached Foggia it became light - the dawn of a clear sunny day. By about 0700 hrs we could see everything clearly to the snow on the mountains on the promontory of Manfredonia in the north. We had a very memorable journey through some magnificent scenery - green valleys, snow topped mountains. On the way we passed through a village where the snow was thawing in the streets. We saw numerous trucks out of action as a result of collisions on the twisty and very steep roads. Our route lay through Ariano and Avellino. From Ariano the drive down into the valley to sea level was extremely precipitous and full of hair-pin bends and an aerial view of miles of country which was very impressing. Just as it was beginning to get dark we caught our first glimpse of Vesuvius with the wisp of cloud-like smoke trailing from the summit. By this time we were on the road between San Severino and Pompeii. From this point onwards the road was very bad and the going was slower still. But at last we reached our destination, a small town called Gragnano near to Castellammare on the south side of the Bay of Naples. By this time it was about 2000 hrs and the moon was high in the sky.

Tuesday 4th January 1944

After yesterday's sunshine, a dull grey day. It was spent in finding additional space for the battalion, where it was needed, and improving and in setting in order the premises already occupied.

The whole battalion is in a large macaroni factory, and is really very well off. The Orderly Room and various other offices are all in the same block of buildings as the battalion and are fitted with electric light. Intelligence Section have got the proprietor's personal office, who has been extremely obliging, as have been all the Italians with whom we have had to do, in noticeable contrast to the Bari region. The officers have been billeted by companions round the town and are all within easy reach of Battalion HQ. The RSM, Drill Sergeants and CSMs have also all got private billets. The latter have settled themselves amongst the Archives of Gragnano in the municipal buildings. It has been a wet and unpleasant day, but nobody has noticed it because there has been too much to do, but not least because for the first time since we left England everyone is under a roof. Amongst the amenities of this village is a cinema which has been revived by the coming of the Brigade (the 5th Battalion Grenadier Guards and Brigade Support Group are also here) and a fresh lease of electric current. Drill Sergeant Rooney MM, has combined with the proprietor to organize the times of performances and the selection of films. In the outside world, the great news from the Russian front has encouraged everyone.

Wednesday 5th January 1944

The Commanding Officer held a O Group at 0930 hrs at Battalion HQ, Officers' Mess, which is in a flat at the top of the same building in which the Grenadiers have their HQ, at the bottom. The Commanding Officer outlined the training programme - combined operations training. In view of the fact that the battalion has already done a lot of this - Dartmouth, Southampton, Glenborrowdale, Ayr, it should be merely a question of brushing up our knowledge. The Commanding Officer emphasised the fact that the main problem for us will be the land fighting - the advance to first contact. And this we were to practice. The tendency had been to stress over much the importance of the actual landing operation, and to forget that what comes after that is a longer and bigger affair.

Other points dealt with were:-

(i) Our journey in convoy from Canosa to Gragnano. This was not well done although it had been the best in the Brigade according to the Brigade Commander.

(ii) Necessity for 100% maintenance of vehicles. The band played in the main street, 'Via Roma' and drew great crowds. Another dark day, very cold and rainy.

Thursday 6th January 1944

The battalion was visited by the Divisional Commander at 1030 hrs. Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 Companies practiced a landing from the Royal Ulsterman (the same ship which took the battalion from Algiers to Bone) in LCAs in the Bay of Naples. The landing was made just south of Castellammare and was watched by the Brigade Commander. Beautiful day but bitterly cold.

Friday 7th January 1944 - Gragnano

Accompanied by the Brigadier, CRA, and other members of his staff, Major-General Lucas, commanding VI Corps visited the battalion this morning at 1130 hrs. He saw the battalion billets and was able to inspect No. 1 Company who ‘happened' to arrive in off a route march just as he was leaving. He expressed the opinion that the Main Guard, under command of Sergeant Bird was 'mighty fine'. The rest of the day passed peacefully.

Saturday 8th January 1944

The Commanding Officer went to Brigade Conference on the provisional MT Loading Table. Afterwards he went on with the commanding officer, 5th Battalion Grenadier Guards to see 201 Brigade who are now out of the line. The Sergeants' Mess gave a party in the evening. Music was provided by the Dance Section of the Regiment Band.

Sunday 9th January 1944

Uneventful day. Very wet though much warmer. Church of Emgland services were held in the cinema. Roman Catholic services in the Chapel at the top of the town.

Monday 10th January 1944

The Regimental Band went off to 201 Brigade. The warm spell continues. A party of officers and NCOs from each riffle company went to Castellammare to look over LCIs. The latest news is that our Combined Ops will now be in this type of ship and not in LCAs. Very wet morning.

The Commanding Officer went to a special conference at Army Group HQ. Outwardly life is very quiet and days passed agreeably. But there is no doubt that our fate is in a melting pot. The news is very good. Our advance on Cassino quickens and the Russians are threatening to exterminate Germans on the Dnieper bend.

Tuesday 11th January 1944

Quiet day. Fine and warm. Snow off the mountains. Vesuvius in clouds. Battalion played football versus Grenadier Guards at local stadium. Result draw 1-1. The "Rooney" Cinema continues to draw great crowds and today is showing Bing Crosby in "If I had my Way". There is an abundance of fruit and nuts, but apart for knick-nacks little else to buy in the shops.

Wednesday 12th January 1944

During the last few days company and platoon commanders have taken the opportunity of taking their men to see the ruins at Pompeii. And plans have also been projected for climbing Vesuvius. In general, life continues peacefully enough, and the Guardsmen at least are thoroughly happy to be living in a town again. Training continues subject to the limitations of the surrounding country which is extremely mountainous. Today a snipers course was begun under the aegis of the second-in-command. There is however a strong feeling that important events are impending and that there are perhaps very imminent. For this reason it seems inadvisable to make any detailed arrangements for training or recreation very far ahead.

Thursday 13th January 1944 - Gragnano

At 1130 hrs this morning the Commanding Officer held an O Group, and made known the future of the battalion, outlining the plan for the Combined Operation Shingle and explaining the Divisional and Brigade objectives.

Early in the afternoon the personnel of the O Group drove to ‘Lighting’ - (HQ 5th Army, in the King of Naples Palace, Caserta), and were there able to examine aerial photographs and map enlargements of that part of the coast at which we are to land.

Friday 14th January 1944

During the last 24 hours the activity within the battalion has been chiefly administrative, involving the drawing up of nominal rolls and the drafting of loading tables. All our MT, assault vehicles are due to be loaded aboard LSTs only tomorrow morning. Major J.S.O. Haslewood has arrived from North Africa and Lieutenant A.M.C. Askin from Cairo after completing a signal course there.

Saturday 15th January 1944

The MT vehicles were not in fact loaded this morning, but it is expected now that they will be put on board some time tomorrow. Fresh instructions about this have been issued and the the vehicles have been sent to an assembly area where they are to wait until called forward. At midday there was a demonstration in the courtyard of the factory of American uniform and equipment. The demonstration was given by an officer and half-a-dozen other ranks of a US Parachute Battalion with the object of familiarising us with the appearance of their Fighting Order which is very similar to that of their opposite number in the German Army. As it so happened this display of very practicable and enviable equipment coincided with an issue by the Quartermaster to the companies of the most serviceable article of kit in the form of a leather jerkin. Unfortunately, however, the supply and demand were not equal, and in one company there were 118 applicants for 100 jerkins - with the inevitable consequences.

Sunday 16th January 1944

A quiet day. Preparations continue to go ahead smoothly within the battalion. Our destination is still kept secret and on this account it has been specially interesting to hear the various speculations. Examples of those are "The South of France", “Corsica", “North of Rome", “Yugoslavia" and a few have said "South of Rome”. Only one incorrigible optimist has suggested "England".

Monday 17th January 1944

The order came through this morning for the personnel detailed for LST Serial No. 106 to embark. This party marched off in due course, but returned within the hour with the information that the Port Authorities were not yet ready for them. A second attempt to embark later in the day was successful.

Tuesday 18th January 1944

Apart from an excellent concert given by the Grenadiers in the theatre in Castellammare at 1700 hrs this has been a most uneventful day.

Wednesday 19th January 1944 - Gragnano

The Commanding Officer held a conference for company commanders at Battalion HQ at 0930 hrs when he explained the battalion's role in the landing and issued final instructions. Except in the unlikely event of fierce opposition by the enemy this appears a fairly simple one, and involves the earliest possible concentration of the battalion, in a pre-arranged locality, and the simultaneous establishing of contact with the Grenadiers on our right or left depending on whether we or they disembark first.

Personnel for the second LST, Serial No. 107, embarked this afternoon. This makes the load of men and vehicles on both LSTs complete, and it only now remains to embark the marching personnel, which are all the remainder of the battalion - 480.

Evening Thursday 20th January 1944

The battalion is now afloat distributed between two LSTs and four much less comfortable LCIs which took part in the invasion of Sicily and which landed 201 Guards Brigade at Salerno. Of our last day in Gragnano there is not much to relate. In the evening the Regimental Band made its farewell appearance in the 'Via Roma'. Dinners were at 1130 hrs and at 1230 hrs the battalion paraded in the courtyard of the factory preparatory to marching down to quays. There followed, as so often happens, an exasperating delay while everyone hung around in 'Christmas Tree Order'. Eventually, at 1530 hrs, the Grenadiers, proceeded by our band marched off. Soon afterwards we followed ourselves, once again headed by the band which had returned after playing the Grenadiers out of the town. In the square of Castellammare the Commanding Officer took the salute as the battalion marched past. Serials went straight aboard their respective LCIs, and within half-an-hour the whole battalion had embarked. At about 1730 hrs the LCIs drew out from shore to a distance of about half-a-mile and then dropped anchor. It is not expected that we shall sail until tomorrow morning.

Friday 21st January 1944

This had been a perfect day for sailing - sunny and warm and very calm. Shortly after 1100 hrs the convoy began to sort itself out and by midday we were all underway way sailing due south and passing Capri on our right hand. The convoy was an impressive sight. Almost as far as the eye could see there were ships - LCIs, LSTs and escort vessels. Every now and then we changed formation from extended order to line ahead and vice versa. Since night fall we have been following a northwestern course and within the last hour have been able to see flashes of gunfire far away on our right - presumably on the Garigliano sector. Up to present our voyage has been completely peaceful with no signs of the enemy either on the sea or in the air.

Saturday 22nd January 1944 - A wood about three miles north of Anzio

The landing began this morning at about 0200 hrs, but it was broad daylight and nearly 0900 hrs by the time the battalion came ashore, disembarking on a sandy beach some four miles north west of Anzio. It was a clear spring like day and the whole operation went very much according to plan. Complete surprise was achieved and enemy opposition was negligible.

The small defence force of Nettuno and Anzio were easily dealt with by the combined efforts of the Commandos and US Rangers. Artillery fire from enemy coastal batteries directed at the armada was surprisingly ineffective, most of the guns were soon accounted for by our cruisers and destroyers.

Enemy air activity was limited to a single unsuccessful attack by a few fighter bombers which came in later in the day. By 1100 hrs the Brigade was in an assembly area just south of the Anzio - San Lorenzo road amongst thick trees. It was about this time that General Alexander was to be seen to be driving up and down the road in a jeep between Anzio and the beaches. On one of his visits to the latter he told the Commanding Officer that he was very satisfied with the progress of the invasion and was optimistic about the future. At about 1430 hrs and two hours before dusk the battalion moved forward to take over a plateau (thickly wooded on the northern side) from the Scots Guards, who in turn moved to a new position a mile or two to the east where the wood meets the Anzio - Albano road. During the night the only contact with the enemy within the Brigade sector was made by a Scots Guards patrol which shot one German and took several others prisoner.

Sunday 23rd January 1944

There was more or less continued gunfire throughout the night but none of the shells landed in the battalion area, and the chief target appeared to be the harbour at Anzio. Otherwise it was an uneventful night and memorable chiefly for the extreme cold. It had been hoped that the MT would be unloaded before dark last night but this, for various reasons, was found to be impossible and it was nearly daylight this morning by the time it arrived. At 1330 hrs the Commanding Officer went to a conference at Brigade HQ, at which the progress of the landing and future operations were discussed. On the enemy's side it appears that the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, less one regiment, is being detached from the 5th Army front and with the support of a regiment of the 90th Light Division, is to meet the threat of the 3rd US Division, north east of Anzio. Our own future movements depend to a large extent on developments on this sector. In the meantime, we are to stay where we are. At about 1500 hrs it began to rain and continued intermittently for the rest of the day. Just before dusk several bombing and machine-gunning attacks were made on the shipping off the coast and on the beaches. Our AA gunners put up a considerable barrage but it was impossible to see whether or not any hits were scored. Shortly after 2200 hrs the alarm was given that parachutists had been dropped and all guards were doubled. The night however passed without incident and it is probable that the alarm was groundless.

Monday 24th January 1944

This has been a very quiet day for the battalion, as it has been for the whole of the Brigade with the exception of a strong patrol sent out in the morning by the Grenadiers to reconnoitre the factory at Carroceto which lies about six thousand yards north of the "Campo" (Campo di Carne) flyover bridge. As a result of this patrol, it was estimated the factory area was held by one company of various supporting arms.

At 2000 hrs the Commanding Officer together with the Commanding Officer Scots Guards (Lieutenant-Colonel David Wedderburn) went to an O Group at Brigade HQ. Orders for an advance tomorrow morning by the Brigade on Campoleone were issued and the latest information on enemy dispositions made known. At 2200 hrs the Commanding Officer held an O Group. The order of march of the battalion was decided upon, and all necessary arrangements made for an early start.

Tuesday/Wednesday 25th/26th January 1944

The events. of those two days have been recorded in a special account written by Major D.M.L. Gordon-Watson, MC, Second-in-Command, under the heading of 'The Battle of Carroceto Factory'.

Thursday 27th January 1944

The enemy continue to shell us throughout the whole of the day but slightly less heavily than before. His infantry activity was also on a reduced scale, the result no doubt of his set backs yesterday. In the intervals between the shelling, sometimes a matter of several hours, Advanced Battalion HQ was transferred from the culvert where Support HQ and the RAP had installed themselves, to a couple of slit trenches dug for the purpose at the foot of the embankment just off the road on the left-hand side of the railway bridge. During the course of the morning, a patrol was sent out from No. 4 Company under command of Lieutenant J.O. Dodds consisting of a platoon supported by carriers. The object of the patrol was to contact the enemy immediately north of us and to gain some idea of their strength and dispositions without becoming engaged in any major action. Lieutenant Dodd's patrol did most successfully, advancing one to two miles and locating in all about fifty Germans. The patrol took prisoners and sustained one minor casualty.

Friday 28th January 1944

Last night passed comparatively quietly. Routine patrols were sent out but had nothing to report. It appears that there are about three companies of German paratroops based in the incomplete railway line to the north-west of our positions. So far however they have not been particularly troublesome, although their snipers do their best to discourage any movement of ours in the open. To supplement the information gained about the enemy by Lieutenant Dodd's patrol yesterday, another patrol was sent out today from No. 3 Company under Lieutenant The Honourable S.E. Preston with the object of discovering the strength and dispositions of the enemy to our left front, particularly with regard to the road that runs left of and parallel to the main Anzio-Albano road.

This patrol, which was out for over eight hours did not return until 2030 hrs having been obliged to make a wide detour round the enemy's flanks. The patrol had had no direct contact with the enemy but had observed the position of an enemy company and had on their return journey by accident found their way into the harbour area of between thirty and forty German tanks. This important information after being checked was passed back to the gunners who put down a concentration of eight hundred shells in that area during the early hours of this morning.

No. 4 Company has, at present, the role of reserve company. And from it was found the personnel for another patrol, again under the command of Lieutenant J.C. Dodds. The object of this patrol was to confirm the information already obtained and if possible to discover the effect of last night's artillery concentration on the harbour haven of the German tanks. Lieutenant Dodds’ patrol set out at 0930 hrs. About an hour later the Commanding Officer was sent for to Brigade HQ, and informed that the Brigade was to advance that night.

It was believed that the ground was only lightly held, and it was not anticipated that he would offer any serious resistance after our artillery had paved the way for the advance. The plan was for the Irish Guards to move up the left flank after dusk, to a position approximately parallel with the Scots Guards HQ, on the right of the road. This was to be the start line. Then at zero (2300 hrs) both battalions were to advance about a mile on either side of the road and capture some high ground which lay immediately to our front, and the possession of which was essential to any further advance by the Division.

During the afternoon the Commanding Officer first, and later company commanders, were able to get an idea of the ground over which the battalion would have to advance from an OP in a hay barn, close by the Scots Guards HQ, a position which was continually shelled by the enemy but never hit.

By nightfall the artillery programme on all other arrangements had been made, Lieutenant Dodds’ patrol, which had returned without mishap, reported some enemy activity on the left of our line of advance, and No. 3 Company (Captain D.M. Kennedy) was ordered to be prepared to precede the main body of the battalion and secure this flank as far as the start line.

At 1945 hrs three quarters of an hour before the battalion was due to move it was decided to alter the time of zero because of the fact that the Duke of Wellington's were not yet ready to take over our positions. The necessary alteration of timings were made with our supporting arms, and shortly before 2100 hrs the battalion moved off along the line of the railway. The Order of March was:- No.1 and No. 2 Companies, followed by No. 4. Company with Battalion HQ, No. 3 Company had already gone on ahead as arranged.

The plan was that when the start line had been reached, a couple of miles from the embankment - contact was to be made with No. 3 Company on the left and with a standing patrol from the Scots Guards on the right.

The advance went smoothly at the outset and artillery concentrations were put down in a number of points suspected of being held by the enemy. Unfortunately, these concentrations which kept the enemy's head down and secured the initial stage of the advance cannot have caused many casualties and when the fire lifted the battalion was met by very heavy machine gun and shell fire. Resistance was especially strong from the right front opposite No. 2 Company (Major G.P.M, Fitzgerald) and it was only after some fierce fighting at close quarters that this company was able to reach its objective. On the left, No. 1 Company (Major Sir Ian Stewart-Richardson, Bt) taking advantage of more favourable cover was able to reach its objective with only one casualty. This objective was dominated by two houses and those were effectively cleared of the enemy who were either killed or put to flight. On the extreme left No. 3 Company had also met opposition but this too was dealt with decisively and the company objective secured. No. 4 Company and Battalion HQ, (Captain D. Drummond) which had the role of pivot company, had all but reached its objective, between Nos. 1 and 2 Companies and in rear of them, when it was caught by machine gun and shell fire, evidently DF tasks, and a number of casualties were sustained before the position was consolidated.

By dawn, the battalion had secured and consolidated its objectives on all sectors. In the forward area, No. 2 Company, depleted in numbers, had joined forces with No. 1 Company this composite force, consisting of four platoons, strong enough to repel an attack by infantry but lacking the support of tank guns or "Tank Busters" was in no position to oppose any serious threat by enemy armour. This threat of a counterattack with tanks soon became a certainty and although temporarily frightened off by the bold use of anti-tank grenades it was only a matter of time before they again began to close in on the positions. The gravity of the situation was further increased by the fact that the undulating ground on our right flank was held by the enemy who had succeeded in preventing the advance of the Scots Guards during the night. In view of these and other considerations, it was decided to withdraw No. 1 and No.2 Companies to temporary positions in the rear. During this withdrawal, the companies were caught by heavy machine gun fire and several casualties were sustained including Lieutenant Da Costa and Lieutenant Preston killed and Lieutenant Gillow fatally wounded.

Throughout the remainder of the day no attempt was made by the enemy to recover the ground he had lost during the night, but rather the reverse. Under Captain D.M. Kennedy a mobile patrol from No. 3 Company with three American tank busters under his command made several most successful sweeps over our left flank bringing in a total of 55 prisoners and much valuable information. During one of these local engagements, Lieutenant C.M. Musgrave was killed - due no doubt, in a considerable measure to his enterprising action. The left flank was made safe on the subsequent advance of the 3rd Infantry Brigade along the axis of the main road materially assisted. When night came the battalion found itself, in common with the remainder of the Brigade, in semi-reserve and in part responsible for the right flank; the defence of this sector now being centered around the farm which had formerly been the Scots Guards HQ. No. 3 Company occupied a harbour area, previously held by No. 1 Company in Carroceto village, while No. 4 Company continue to hold its position near a cottage on the railway line.

Night of 30th/31st January 1944

The night was undisturbed and provided a majority of the battalion with the opportunity of making up some badly needed sleep.

Monday 31st January 1944

More patrolling was carried out at first light by No. 3 Company with a similar force to that employed the day before. Several German engineers were killed and others taken prisoner. In the meantime, the 3rd Infantry Brigade (1 DWR, 2 KSLI, 2 Foresters) had moved up the road towards Campoleone and had taken up positions just south of the lateral railway line to Rome. This meant that the Divisional front was secured but the left flank was still open. To remedy this the battalion moved up after dark and re-occupied the positions originally captured; thus, together with the Scots Guards on our left rear, filling or partially filling the gap between the 3rd Infantry Brigade and forces south of the embankment.

Owing to the vile extent of ground to be covered the exact positions to be occupied were not easy to decide, and it was nearly 0400 hrs before the company positions were dug-in.

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