- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Reginald George Goodwin
- Location of story:
- Primosole Bridge, Sicily
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 June 2004
Private R.G. Goodwin on leave in Alexandria, May 1943
This is the story of my grandfather Reginald George Goodwin and his involvement in one of the hardest (and often forgotten) battles of the Second World War. Originally from Herefordshire, Reg Goodwin enlisted in the British Army on the 17th of January 1940. Private R.G. Goodwin 4036125 was posted to the Herefordshire Regiment, Territorial Army to begin basic training. On the 15th July 1942 he was then transferred to the Welch Regiment to await battle orders.
Into North Africa
On the 23rd of November 1942 he found himself part of the reinforcements for the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 151st Infantry Brigade, 50th Division, 13th Corps, 8th Army in North Africa. The 50th Division underwent extensive training in infantry/tank co-operative manoeuvres, street fighting under 10 Corps Street Fighting School and mine/booby trap removal with the 505 Field Company.
The Battle of Mareth
The 8th Battalion soon received battle orders. They were going to be a part of the assault on the Mareth Line, a defensive system between Libya and Tunisia. The Battle of Mareth, March 1943 took a toll on the 8th DLI, but the line was taken.
After the battle the 8th DLI was granted leave and by May 1943, the T.T. sign with the blue Durham flash was all over Cairo and Alexandria, my grandfather among them. However, come July 1943, the 8th DLI was to be part of the invasion force for Operation Husky, the 8th Army's campaign to capture Sicily from the Italian and German armies.
The Invasion of Sicily
On July 10th, 1943 the 8th DLI men were to land with the rest of the 50th Division, 8th Army on the south east coast of Sicily. Arriving in LCIs (Landing Craft; Infantry) from the Dutch ship Ruys, the 8th Battalion DLI waded ashore into Jig "Green Sector" and were ordered to occupy covering positions north-west and south-west of Avola, in order to deny the enemy any high ground from which observation of the Landing Area could be obtained. The 8th quickly performed their duty and it was not long before they were marching deeper into 'Mussolini's Fortress'. My father Keith (Reg's youngest son) tells (sic), "Dad said that he walked through the fields picking and eating tomatoes and grapes straight from the vine, but later it meant finding a latrine or quiet hedge very quickly!"
Alerted to the invasion, the Germans airlifted paratroopers to Catania, further north of the 8th Army's landing sites near the Primosole Bridge. One of the major links into mainland Sicily, the bridge was to be held at all costs in order to stop the British from gaining any significant ground. British Paratroopers were sent to capture the bridge, but the operation went drastically wrong and although the British 1st Airborne Brigade managed to take the bridge from defending Italian soldiers, they were forced to retreat due to an overwhelming enemy presence. The Durham Light Infantry and the 44th Royal Tank Regiment were aware of the plight of the British paratroopers at the bridge and made haste to reinforce them. It was at the ensuing battle for the Primosole Bridge that my grandfather earned the greatest honour of his wartime service.
The Battle of Primosole Bridge
A Bren-Gunner in A Company, 8th DLI, my grandfather saw action on the assault on the Primosole Bridge that spanned the Simeto River on 15th July 1943. Throughout the attack he covered his section forward by Bren-Gun fire from the hip. His company successfully destroyed defensive pillboxes at the bridgehead, which then allowed sappers to dispose of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines that barred the British route across the bridge. The company took up defensive positions in slit trenches around the bridgehead and held their positions overnight under intense enemy mortar, machine-gun and sniper fire. At first light on 16th July 1943 his platoon was heavily counter-attacked by the German soldiers of the 3rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Fallschirmjäger (Paratroops) Division and elements of the Fallschirmjäger Panzer Korps Herman Goering (Armoured Paratroops) Division.
Quite possibly the finest German troops in Sicily at the time, the London Times - August 27th 1943 reported; "They fought superbly. They were troops of the highest quality, experienced veterans of Crete and Russia: cool and skilled, Nazi zealots to a man and fanatically outrageous. To fight them was an education for any soldier."
The platoon was quickly ordered to withdraw when they were in danger of being overrun by the enemy paratroopers. Some of the soldiers had to wade back across the river to safety, but my grandfather stayed behind to cover the platoon and only got away himself by backing away firing from the hip. He made his own way back to his company and at once took position at the bridgehead to engage the enemy. He remained at his post throughout the day, though he was continuously under heavy machine gun and sniper fire. He succeeded in accounting for at least four enemy snipers and showed complete disregard for his own personal safety and of enemy fire and by his courage, cheerfulness, and devotion to duty he inspired all his comrades. For this action he was later awarded the Military Medal, his citation ordered on 25th July, 1943 and signed not only by his commanding officers Major G.P Chambers (8th Battalion DLI) and Brigadier R.H Senior (151st Infantry Brigade), but also Field Marshal B.L Montgomery (Commander-in-Chief, 8th Army).
My grandfather's sergeant, Ray Pinchin, recalls (sic); "The battle was very noisy and very, very bloody. It caused us all a lot of grief. After we'd crossed the river and taken up a defensive position behind a low stonewall, I had my section dug in and we all had our heads well down. I kept telling Reg to "get your bloody head in!", but he insisted he couldn't be seen."
During the assault A and D Companies met to reinforce each other's positions and Ray remembers, (sic) "Reg was shouting that a party of Jerries were crossing our front. Sergeant Mackmin of D Company ran over to him and together they had a go at them. Reg acted as a rest for the Bren by standing up with the gun on his shoulder. They fired a couple of magazines at them. It must have been a bit hard on Reg's eardrums. When the battle ended we looked over the ground and between them they had accounted for a few of the enemy."
Sergeant C.W.J Mackmin later received the Military Medal for his actions at the Primosole Bridge with D Company of the 8th DLI.
My father Keith also remembers; "I often wondered why Dad couldn't hear the grasshoppers in the garden at home." This was because my grandfather had lost much of his range of hearing due to the firing of the Bren-Gun as it rested upon his shoulder. Ray recollects my grandfather, (sic) "He was quite unflappable, never seemed to raise his voice, and never, unlike most soldiers, used bad language. And being from the West Country his dialect was like music after Geordie twang."
After the action on the bridge Ray Pinchin lost contact as my grandfather may have been reassigned to B or C Company of the Battalion. The Primosole Bridge was captured from the Germans after continued assaults from the Durham Light Infantry and the Sherman tanks of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment, which then allowed the 8th Army to push forwards into Catania and take Sicily. Casualties were heavy on both sides and soldiers who had experienced the fiercest fighting at the battle of El Alamein were heard to remark they had never seen so much slaughter in such a small area. After the securing of Sicily and Italy by the 8th Army, in October 1943 the DLI embarked on the Dutch freighter Sibajak and sailed in convoy out of Augusta Harbour for Algiers, Gibraltar, and then England. While on leave the investiture for my grandfather's Military Medal took place. On March 14th, 1944 he was presented with his Military Medal at Buckingham Palace by King George VI. The King shook his hand and smiled, saying, "Well done."
D-Day and the Battle for Normandy
After leave ended my grandfather began training for D-Day; Operation Overlord. On the 5th June 1944 he departed from Southampton on the HMS Albrighton (commanded by Capt G.V.M Dolphin, R.N) as part of Assault Group G3. The 151st Brigade (6th, 8th and 9th DLI) were to land at King "Green Sector" Gold Beach, coming to shore in LCI (L)'s (Landing Craft Infantry - Large). Between the hours of 10:30 and 12:00 on the 6th June 1944 the reserve troops of the 151st Infantry Brigade, comprising the 6th, 8th and 9th Battalions DLI landed in heavy surf at Gold Beach. Thanks to the efforts of the 4th/7th RDGs DD Tanks (Sherman Tanks fitted with waterproof skirts), the 5th East Yorks, the 6th Green Howards and the 1st Dorsets, most of the enemy resistance had been nullified, enabling the 151st to move inland from their position towards Ver-sur-Mer and later Meuvaines. With the aerial and naval bombardment of defensive forces prior to landing, the operation was fairly straightforward. Limited resistance came from the retreating German forces of the 3/Ost 441 Division who had apparently fled. The 151st ensured Ver-sur-Mer and Meuvaines were secure and under the command of Brigadier R.H Senior, moved off towards Bayeaux.
Although hindered by traffic jams, the 151st made good progress. There was no more than sporadic enemy resistance, although a near miss attack by RAF Typhoons who mistook the column for German infantry made for a nervous moment. No casualties resulted from the mistake. However, the 151st lost Brigadier Senior in an ambush by elements of the 1/GR 915 outside Bazenville. The commanding officer was injured and Lt. Col. R.P Lidwill of the 8th DLI was appointed Brigade commander. This put a standstill on the 151st movements and the Brigade nestled into an overnight defensive position just outside Sommervieu.
The Battle for St-Pierre
On the 9th June the 8th Armoured Brigade (comprising of the Nottinghamshire (Sherwood Rangers) Yeomanry, the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards, the 24th Lancers and the 147th Field Regiment) under the command of Brigadier H.J.B Cracoft were ordered to push further south. During the night of the 8th-9th of June, the Sherwood Rangers scouted the area around St-Pierre and reported German activity in the area. The 24th Lancers moved the command post to the village of Audrieu. Riding on the backs of the Lancers' tanks were the infantrymen of the 8th DLI, detached from the 151st to lead an attack on Ouse later in the day. However, in the late afternoon the Durhams advanced downhill supported by the 24th Lancers Sherman tanks into the small village of St-Pierre.
Bad weather kept Allied aircraft grounded and this encouraged the German forces to rally. The Panzer Lehr Division, made up of about 50 Panzer IVs from 2nd Battalion/130th Panzer Lehr Regiment with the support of panzer-grenadiers also pushed into St-Pierre. The 8th DLI held the town overnight, after heavy casualties on both sides. On the morning of the 10th June, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Panzer Lehr's 901st Panzer-grenadier Regiment attacked, moving closer to the Durhams' positions. They were supported by elements of the 12th SS Panzer Divisions (2. Panzerkompanie, with Panther tanks). Under enormous pressure the 8th DLI lost its anti-tank weapons and were pushed back towards battalion headquarters. However, following the initial shock, the 8th DLI men fought back. Every available man, including headquarters personnel, joined the defence of a farm on the northern edge of St-Pierre. Sherman tanks from the 24th Lancers moved in to support the 8th and blocked any further German armour from moving closer. By lunchtime the enemy advance had been halted. To prevent the Germans from resuming an attack, the 147th Field Artillery bombarded the area around St-Pierre and the HMS Argonaut, with RAF fighter support, kept the 901st Panzer-grenadier Regiment on the defensive.
The 8th DLI, with the armour of the Sherwood Rangers and the 24th Lancers, held St-Pierre overnight on the 10th-11th June and were attacked once again by the Panzer IVs and Panthers of the Panzer Lehr and the 12th SS Division. Heavy casualties ensued, however the attack by the Germans seemed to be a covering move for an offensive further away at Tilly-sur-Suelles. Come the morning of the 12th June the village of St-Pierre was no longer an integral part of the battle and that night the Durhams moved back to Audrieu. From there they were taken by truck to Cachy, near Bayeaux. After a short two-day rest my grandfather and the 8th DLI were then to push further into the Normandy 'Bocage'.
During the Battle for Normandy, family legend has it that my grandfather met with his brother Geoff and although there is limited knowledge of the circumstances, Reg saved Geoff's life by rescuing him from drowning. At the end of August, 1944, my grandfather returned to England, and took no further part in the Second World War.
After the war
Corporal Reginald George Goodwin was demobbed from the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry on 12th June 1946 and he retired to Folkestone, Kent to be with his family. Many people would later ask him how he won his Military Medal. He would reply, "I saved the lives of my battalion." Pushed for further description he would blithely respond, "I shot the cook" and nothing more. Along with the Military Medal he was also awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star (8th Army Bar), the Italy Star, the France and Germany Star, the Defence Medal and the 1939-45 War Medal.
My grandfather unfortunately passed away in March 1975, shortly after my parents were married and emigrated to Australia. I was born the following year, and although I never met my grandfather and it is only through family stories, anecdotes and historical records that I have learnt about the man who was Reginald George Goodwin, I am still extremely proud of him.
Article by M.J Goodwin
(aka Hoopy Frood)
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