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Attack at Salerno and Sighting the Cassino Monastery

by grenguard

Contributed by 
grenguard
People in story: 
laurence waring.6th battalion grenadier guards.part 1.
Location of story: 
salerno and cassino italy
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A3300616
Contributed on: 
19 November 2004

During august and the beginning of september 1945, negotiations had been taking place between british and italian governments for an armistice, but nothing came ofit. So the invasion force of which we were a part, set sail for italy, not knowing where we were eventually going to attempt to land. We were not allowed on deck during the voyage. Well into the voyage we were informedthat a landing was being attempted at salerno, but about halfway through the voyage information came through that the italian government had capitulated,and the convoy was halted until a decisionwas made whether to continue or to abort the landing. It was eventually decided to continue, and the next few hours were to be somewhat soul destroying to myself. We sailed on under cover of darkness, but i was suddenly sent for with my radio transmitter to join the company commander on deck. I was not prepared for what was to happen next as the sky was suddenly ablaze with light from flares dropped by german aircraft. We were subjected to intense bombardment at sea from stuka bombers, and the only answer to them was anti-aircraft guns on the escort ships. This must have lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes but at the time it seemed an eternity, it was frightening enough being stood on deck, but it must have shocking being below deck, hearing the bombs exploding ,not being able to move, fearing that the next bomb could give you a direct hit. During the bombing icould see an island by the light of the flares which i assumed was capri. So we knew we were about ten miles due west of salerno. As the convoy approached saernoand its surrounding beaches, all hell was let loose as the enemy shore defences fired at almost point blank range at the landing craft approaching the beach, it was inevitable that casualties were going to be heavy.being on deck i was able to see the landing craft being hit and sinking far from shore, making it almost impossible for any of the soldiers to swim to shore even if they managed to free themselves from below deck. The escort of destroyers and battleships were doing their best to silence the artillery, but it was so concentrated that it was the ground troops that eventually put them to flight and obtained a foothold on the beachhead. We were held in reserve, whilst the coldstream and welsh guards attacked the beachhead. As dawn broke we learnt that the advance force had landed and pushed the enemy back as far as battipaglia. As we made our way forward toland on the beach to reinforce the beachhead the thought occurred to me that this was why we had been told to learn to swim. We moved forward to positions around battipaglia. The enemy resistance became so intense thar we found our positions untenable,having to retire to positions behind a river. The whole position changed very rapidly over the next hour or so as the invasion force was forced back on to the boats, leaving ourselves and the force attacking salerno the only troops holding ground. The next seven days was frightening in its intensity to try to remove us from the ground we held. I was told to report to the mortar team, as a means of communication between them and company h.q., and a bren carrier as our means of transport. The waywe had to perform the exercise was extremely hazardous, being instructed to go to a position, dig in, and bombard the enemy positions until they located us and shells started falling close , when we would up and go to another position. This sort of action continued on and off for three days, having some very narrow escapes, until i was becoming somewhat shellshocked. After this time whilst we were at h,q., i went to the signal officer and requested a relief. He agreed and i was stood down and put on guard, imagine my complete horror when i learnt about two hours later that the mortar team had had a direct hit and all had been killed. I wondered then whether it was a twist of fate that i had been relieved at that point, and i came to the conclusion that i was destined to survive the war. Soon after this we were all informed that the situation was becoming desperate, that we were fighting a rear guard action that could mean us all dying in an attempt to hold our ground. There was shelling from both sides for a time, but it became clear that our forward positions were becoming increasingly difficult to hold, so a request for a barrage to be laid forward of our positions to enable us to retire to a more tenable position. This was achieved, and a request was made for a further barrage to be concentrated over the river to keep the enemy at bay. During this time we were al confined to our dugouts. We were informed that this was a do or die stand, that we held or died in the attempt. Information came in that we were only holding a mile of ground and that this was to be held at all costs. It became very quiet, which made it all the more unnerving as night closed in. Suddenly, the artillery opened up and machine guns started chattering and we knew the attack was underway. We could only remain in our dugouts and hope that the forward line held, but this was not to be, our forward positions were overrun, so we retired to regroup. From this point the battle became intense in hand to hand fighting, and eventually we regained the ground we had lost. After this battle the action subsided a lot and it became clear that the eighth army had arrived on our right flank , relieving the pressure. This drove the enemy into the hills surrounding salerno.now we were taken out of the battle for a rest, supposedly for a few days. But this was not to be , we were called into action again within twentyfour hours, marching into salerno under cover of night, to try to extract the enemy from the surrounding hills. There was a lot of shelling and minor skirmishes, but finally the enemy was defeated, and went into full retreat under the weight of the eighth army.

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Message 1 - Attack at Salerno Pt 1

Posted on: 20 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Gsmn Waring -
a very fine tale and in the best traditions of the 6th Grenadiers and their 201 Brigade of 2nd Scots and
2nd Coldstreams, who did such an amazing job at Alam Halfa in Tunisia around the Mareth Line in the company of the New Zealanders and the 1st Armnd Div. and led by Lt.Gen Horrocks.

there are however one or two points in the story which might need some clarification before you post your Pt 2 inasmuch as some of your dates are a bit off - 1945 instead of 1943 etc -how could you see Capri away to the West - the 8th Army did not arrive to your right until the Battle had been won - much to the disgust of US Gen.Mark Clark who thought that the 8th under Monty were dragging their feet, when they should have been flying over the 300 mile gap between them. The fact that 8th had to build bridges - repair blown in defiles through the mountainous country plus fill in all of the roads which had been cratered by the retreating Germans, didn't seem to dawn on that American as he had already decided that Monty was useless and just lucky he marched from Alamein to Italy without being found out.
The unit which appeared on your right was most likely the US V1 corps which was augmented by the American paratroops who had - on the advice of Gen Alexander - been landed to save the day, as Mark Clark had already drawn up plans to evacuate all American Units and let the British fend for themselves ! He was something else and yet he went on the Command both Armies and finally Korea -
unbelievable !

 

Message 2 - Attack at Salerno Pt 1

Posted on: 20 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Gsmn Waring -
my apologies - I meant El Hamma in Southern Tunisia and NOT Alam Halfa which is a few miles away and south of El Alamein
Cheers

 

Message 3 - Attack at Salerno Pt 1

Posted on: 20 November 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Perhaps respectfully setting out some dates may help jog memories:

1. An armistice with Italy was totally out of the question, 'unconditional surrender' being the agreed Allied policy at the Casablanca conference on 23 January 1943.

2. The surrender was agreed on 3 September, 1943, and publically announced on the 8th. There was never any question of aborting the Salerno landings because of it; the surrender was known to the entire world before the invasion force ever set sail.

3. Italy was invaded at 0430 Hrs on the 3rd of September,1943, by the British 8th Army under General Montgomery (Operation Baytown) across the Straights of Messina to Reggio Calabria .

4. There were three landing beaches collectively referred to as the Salerno landings, stretching from Maiori in the east to Agropoli in the west, the island of Capri being well to the west. Battipaglia is to the south-east of Salerno (not the west) and it was reached on the 12th but relinquished under German counter-attack on the 13th - the landings (Operation Avalanche) having started at 0330 hrs on the 9th of September, 1943. The 6th Battalion Grenadier Guards was in the 22nd Guards Brigade (commanded by Brigadier J. A Gascoigne), 56th (London) Infantry Division (commanded by Major General D. A. H. Graham).

5. The Salerno landings did not involve the 8th Army. The invading force was the US Fifth Army under Lieutenant General Mark Wayne Clark, of which the British Xth Corps under Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery was a part - to the right of the British Xth Corps (on the 3rd beach) was the US VI Corps, commanded by Major General Ernest Joseph Dawley, not the British 8th Army. Contact with the 8th Army was not made until 15 September, advancing up the coast from Reggio, where it had been landed, 150 miles to the south.

6. You say that at or following Salerno "finally the enemy was defeated, and went into full retreat under the weight of the eighth army", but this is not the case. The Germans fought a very skilful counter-attacking action at Salerno, completely out-witting the inept Mark Clark, and held out until all German forces were cleared from southern Italy. They then fell back in orderly fashion to extremely well-prepared defensive positions, the Gustav (Hitler) Line, of which Monte Cassino (not the abbey, as the Allies wrongly thought) was the key point.

Kind regards,

Peter

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