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2nd Battalion Scots Guards – War Diary November 1943

1st November 1943

The Brigade was expecting to be called upon to take the high ground north west of Teano, but this proved to be very lightly held, and 168 and 167 Brigades went on to the Division's final objective with supply as their chief difficulty.

2nd November 1943

Relieved from the immediate necessity of fighting, the battalion washed itself and its clothes, and looked forward to the month of rest and training which it had been promised at the end of the operation which had just been completed.

3rd November 1943

A pig was procured and a dinner party held, which had an element of sadness about it, because we had heard that the Commanding Officer was to go home to attend a Senior Officers' Course.

4th November 1943

The battalion was introduced to the American anti-tank bazookas, and decided that in spite of its peculiar appearance, it was an efficient weapon.

5th November 1943

Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor left for England, much to the battalion's regret; and Major P. Steuart-Fothringham took command of the battalion. The Brigade moved forward late in the day through Teano to another concentration area on the northern slope of a ridge running east and west. The hill was a forest of eating chestnuts, and addition to the diet was welcome.  From here it was possible to see something of the task which lay ahead. On the left was the River Garigliano running north and south, and on the right was a road full of American traffic running north from Roccamonfina to join the Appian Way at Mignano, around which the Americans were engaged in attack and counter attack during the whole of the succeeding week. In front of us, some two miles across the valley, was the range of hills known as Monte Camino, which the Brigade was to attack. This range resolved itself into three main ridges sloping southwards into the plain. On the right was the highest peak (963 metres) with a monastery on the top of it. This sloped down to the plain by what was known as Razorback Ridge. Next on the left was Point 819, descending via Point 727 down what was known as Barearse Slope to the village of Calabritto at the foot. Between these two ridges there was a corrie by which a track went up from the village of Mieli. At the head of the track there was a wood which ran left-handed and up to Point 819 and directly above the head of the corrie were olive trees & cultivated terraces which stretched right-handed to the foot of the Monastery feature. Further to the left, beyond Point 819, were a series of ridges running north and south. which brought the hill by descending steps to the River Garigliano.

6th November 1943

The plan of attack was for the Coldstreams to capture Calabritto at last light and form a firm base. The Grenadiers were then to go through them up Barearse slope, capture 819, and also deal with the monastery feature, which was thought to be lightly held.  We were then to go up the track in the corrie above Mieli and attack westward through the Grenadiers to take a further ridge nearer the river.

The Coldstream attacked in the evening and met with a good many mines. They did not finally capture the village until early the next morning and it cost them some thirty casualties.

The battalion moved down into the valley at 2300 hrs, and took up a covering position on the left flank of the Coldstreams. The Grenadiers did not wait for the village to be captured, but went up Barearse Slope in the moonlight, covered by artillery support on the ridges to the left. The climb was arduous in the extreme, but they met with no trouble until they crossed the ridge. Here they encountered heavy automatic fire from Point 819 above them, and from the Monastery Ridge. The country was very thick scrub and boulders; movement by day was impossible; and communication between their two forward companies and Battalion HQ was difficult. They were also shelled continuously.

7th November 1943

Lieutenant C.R.S. Buckle during the morning took out a patrol west of Calabritto towards the easier slopes, but found mines and wire. Patrols from other units had also reported strong opposition from that quarter. The battalion were due to go up the hill that night, but torrential rain set in. In the evening Lieutenant C.R.S. Buckle made his way up Barearse Slope to the Grenadiers. He reported that in darkness and rain, that way was not feasible, and that the Grenadiers had no knowledge of any connection between their position and the track up the corrie. Further, a patrol from the Royal Berkshires reported that the track was unusable after 300 - 400 yards. The ascent was therefore countermanded for that night. Meanwhile, F Company had been detached to assist the Coldstreams in repelling an expected counter attack, and Captain H.S.N. Rathbone, who was commanding the company, had been ordered to rendezvous, as soon as they were free from their commitments with the Coldstreams, with the rest of the battalion at the foot of the track top the corrie in order to go up the hill. If the remainder of the battalion had gone on, then F Company. were to follow them. In fact F Company went to the wrong rendezvous, and, supposing the rest of the battalion, to have gone on , made their own way up Barearse Slope, and found themselves among the Grenadiers, much to the relief of the latter who had been repeatedly counter attacked and had suffered heavy casualties.

8th November 1943

In the morning the Commanding Officer went up the hill to make a reconnaissance for our projected attack westward through Grenadiers. He found F Company, and placed them under the command of the Grenadiers, whom they were to help by making a counter attack at last light. The two remaining companies had concentrated near Cavelle just below Mieli. In the evening they were moved; one north and the other south of the Coldstreams, who again reported that they were threatened with infiltration on both flanks. On this day Lieutenant Clerk-Rattray showed that the mule track was negotiable by the simple expedient of taking a mule train up it until he came under fire near the top. It was thereafter known as the mule track. Lieutenant D. I. Fyfe-Jamieson was wounded and made his way down the hill with valuable information.

(For a full account of F Company's experiences, see Appendix A)

9th November 1943

It was hoped to find a way up the eastern slope of the Razorback Ridge, and the Brigadier and the Commanding Officer set off to make a reconnaissance. They were however recalled by an urgent call for help from the Grenadiers who feared that their two forward companies had been overrun. Captain H.S.N. Rathbone, commanding F Company, was killed. Lieutenant H. Brooking-Clark brought up twenty reinforcements of various odd men from A Echelon.

The battalion therefore set out from Mieli after dark and went slowly up the Mule Track In the order Right Flank, G Company and Battalion HQ The objective was to secure a firm base at the head of the corrie for a further attack on Point 819 and the Razorback. There was no artillery support except harassing fire on the back areas. It was a fine moonlight night. Right Flank met opposition near the head of the corrie, but in the moonlight were able to take on the enemy posts one by one; and by first light they had captured their given objective and taken seventeen prisoners at the cost of only two casualties. G Company had come up on the left and made contact with the rear companies of the Grenadiers to complete the firm base.

10th November 1943

At first light reconnaissance discovered another German post overlooking the whole battalion position and the Mule Track. Fortunately, it remained silent, and Right Flank sent out a platoon. which captured it complete with nine prisoners. Right Flank were unable to hold the commanding position of this post because of defence in depth, from which snipers picked off every sentry we posted. Some G Company positions were also exposed and the company suffered five casualties during the day. In the evening, the Ox and Bucks were to provide some relief for the Grenadiers and F Company, and we were ordered to tape the start line and arrange supporting fire from our own 3-inch mortars and a section of machine guns, which did not arrive until after dark, so that the Ox and Bucks could attack Point 819. The start line was duly taped and the mortar fire laid on but the MGs failed because they could not get into position in time, and their officer was wounded.

During the night the Ox and Bucks attacked, but just failed to take the whole of their objective and found themselves in the same predicament as the Grenadiers had been. A platoon from Right Flank tried to work onto the lower slopes of Razorback in conjunction with this attack. They could not get far, and Lieutenant P.H. Tunnard, the platoon commander, was slightly wounded.

During the night also, the Grenadiers and F Company were relieved by the Coldstreams. The Grenadiers lost approximately half of the 360 men who went up the hill, including some casualties from frostbite. F Company, out of about ninety men, lost seven killed, twenty-six wounded and sick and seventeen missing. They had suffered not only from almost continuous shelling and frequent counter attacks but also from rain and cold.

Their positions were so effectively covered by fire that movement by day was almost impossible, and two F Company men at midday the next day did not even know that they had been relieved.

11th November 1943

The relief of the Grenadiers by the Coldstreams had been late and hurried, and the relieving troops had failed to take over the most important post covering the area from which came most of the fire troubling us and the Ox and Bucks. The day was fairly quiet and the Corps Commander came up the hill. Major W. D. N. Raeburn MBE arrived to be 2 i/c and joined the Commanding Officer up the hill. In the evening the Ox and Bucks were driven off the part of the Point 819 feature which they had occupied, and they retired to the G Company area. Some alarm was caused during the day when during a certain amount of Spandau fire a party of black porters stampeded through the company positions down the track.

12th November 1943

The Corps Commander again visited the positions on the hill. Lieutenant R.I.K. Moncreiffe and Lieutenant Sir D.Moncreiffe arrived and joined the companies on the hill. Lieutenant T.N. Douglas had to put a patrol which was unable to get back during darkness and was caught In on exposed position. Lieutenant T.N. Douglas himself was wounded. The Commanding Officer called upon artillery fire on Point 819 so that the patrol could get back, and fire from two regiments came down. During the barrage a mortar bomb landed in G Company HQ, wounding Major J.A.L. Timpson MC, the company commander, Captain N.H. Barne MC, the 2 i/c, killed two signallers and wounded another. Further despondency was caused by a German gun on our extreme left rear flank across the River Garigliano which could fire right up the corrie, and did so whenever we were shelling the top. On this morning Captain R.S.T. Home, commanding Right Flank, was slightly wounded.

 It was thought, and reported by Ox and Bucks patrols, that the enemy had moved off Point 819, but when they went forward to occupy it, they met with heavy fire and were unable to do so. At night Colour Serjeant Major Little R. MM of G Company was killed while directing a burial party.

13th November 1943

The troops on the hill were now reinforced by a platoon of machine gunners and a company of the 9th Royal Fusiliers. An attack by that battalion on Razorback Ridge and the monastery was planned, but was held over to await the result of an American attack on the northeast of the feature. This attack was only partially successful. In the afternoon, it was decided after further reconnaissance up the hill by Brigadier J.A. Gascoigne that, though our footing on the hill could be held, it could not be extended without further reinforcements which were not available. The decision was therefore made for withdrawal on the night of the next day. After this conference Brigadier J.A. Gascoigne was severely wounded by shellfire, and Lieutenant-Colonel H. Kingsmill of the Grenadiers took command of the Brigade. The Commanding Officer who, apart from his exertions on the hill had been suffering from a troubled stomach, returned up the hill from the conference, ate a whole tin of treacle duff and another of rice, and was thereafter himself again.

14th November 1943

Right Flank had been consistently shelled, but until this last morning they had been lucky. Now they had ten casualties, and Lieutenant H. Brooking-Clark was wounded.

In the morning a conference was held at the Grenadiers' HQ in Cavelle to settle details of the withdrawal. The Commanding Officer returned up the hill and gave out orders for thinning out to begin at 1745 hrs and the position to be finally abandoned at 1630 hrs. Under his command for the withdrawal were one and a half platoons of Cheshires, and a company of the 9th Royal Fusiliers. At about 1600 hrs it appeared that a German patrol had established itself in broken ground close to our front. The Ox and Bucks sent out two platoons., chased them away, and returned just in time to join in the withdrawal. This went entirely according to plan and was uninterrupted except for one burst of Spandau fire down the mule track just as Battalion HQ were moving, and that caused only two slight casualties. The weather had broken and was misty, and the withdrawal was such a complete success that 40 hours afterwards the Germans were still firing on our old positions on the hill, and we kept up the deception by bringing down our own defensive fire.

The battalion came down the hill and marched some 4 - 5 miles until they were picked up by MT. After another three miles there was a road block which lasted for four hours, and finally in the small hours of the morning the battalion arrived down a muddy track indicated by Brigade, in pouring rain, to an area where there was neither comfort nor accommodation.

A tribute should be paid to those who organised and delivered supplies. A dump had been made in Sipicciano and another in Mieli and thence replenishments came by porters and mules along roads which were shelled frequently and accurately and were even troubled by distant Spandau fire. Except in the case of the Grenadiers on the first day, supplies always arrived at the top of the mule track. The new front line, running through Sipicciano and San Clemente, was taken over by 168 Brigade.

15th November 1943

The rain continued, and the battalion, by this time utterly drenched, extricated itself as best it could from the muddy and precipitous slope down which it had been sent in the dark, and found some sort of accommodation in the neighbouring villages. Battalion HQ was with Brigade HQ in the little village Grollola, on a narrow road midway between Roccamfina and the Appian Way (Route 6) at San Angelo.

16th - 17th November 1943

The two succeeding days were spent mainly in getting dry and keeping dry in the almost continuous rain which had set in. An unfortunate accident happened to Right Flank, when a dozen men living in a cave were burned in a petrol explosion. Leave parties were started to the rest camp at Naples.

18th November 1943

The Division. Commander., General Templer, gave a talk to officers and WOs of the Brigade. He explained how nearly the operation had succeeded; and that the failure had been chiefly due to lack of available reinforcements to exploit the position which had been gained, and the insuperable difficulties of supply over tracks which during the two subsequent days had become impossible through rain.

19th - 20th November 1943

The battalion recced and sent an advance party to a new area round Zuni and Visciano.

21st November 1943

The battalion moved, and found very comfortable quarters. The area was not entirely new, for above us were Point 860 and Rocchetta, and we had passed through the villages of Zuni and VIsciano where we found ourselves billets. The most useful of the billets from the battalion's point of view was a slightly dilapidated monastery. This provided a large concert hall, a sergeants' mess and a men's recreation room, as well as sleeping quarters. The main furniture was small packing cases containing the National Library of Naples, and on these treasures the guardsmen reposed in blissful ignorance.

22nd November 1943

A church parade was held, the first that had been possible for several weeks.

23rd November 1943

Company drill parades were held, and the tonic effect of these upon the spirit and bearing of the men was most marked.

24th November 1943

Leave parties of both officers and men had been going to Naples and Ravello, for four-day rests, but these were cancelled by Division in order that training programmes might not be interfered with.

25th November 1943

The Irish Guards’ Regimental Band had recently arrived in Italy after a short stay in Africa, and during their tour of units in the neighbourhood they spent a night with us. The two concerts they gave during their brief visit were excellent, and greatly appreciated.

26th November 1943

Officers and WOs were given an address by the Corps Commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Richard L. McCreery, KCB, DSO, MBE, MC. In the course of his talk he reviewed the course of the war and its political aspects; he also spoke on the subject of training. But he gave no indication of the future of the Brigade. On this day there joined the battalion Captain W.B. Malone and Lieutenants K.B. Mackenzie and J.W.R. Nicholson. Lieutenant P.C. Carter re-joined the battalion. They brought with them sixty-two Other Ranks reinforcements.

27th November 1943

In addition to training, recreational activities were planned. A tug of war between Support Company and Right Flank came to an abrupt conclusion because the rope broke at the moment of greatest excitement. Support Company had a concert in the evening.

28th November 1943

After church parade Brigadier R.B.R. Colvin, who had recently taken command of the Brigade, came to meet the officers and Warrant Officers of the battalion. An excellent cinema show was given in the Monastery.

29th November 1943

F Company held a smoking concert to the evening; and HQ also produced a most successful concert.

30th November 1943

Support Company held a ‘Brains Trust’. A conference was held to outline impending operations.

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