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Don's War Diary The Battle of Termoli Oct 1943

by duncanowen

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Sgt Don Paige. Terry O'Connor, Keith Taylor (Cowboy) Capt. Hobbs, Harold Eynon. Lt Room, Jimmy Dunbar.
Location of story: 
Termoli Italy
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 January 2006

After travelling north from Reggio since 24th September, Don and his colleagues have arrived in San Severo, some 50 kilometres or so south of Termoli, where 78 Division ran into difficulties against some determined German opposition and very wet weather.

Sunday 3rd October
Left harbouring area 08.20. Much bogging but got out. I went straight on to San Severo. Quite a big place and many people. We went through and a little to the north to a peculiar square house built 1782, with old man and woman, pig, donkey and chickens. It was alive with fleas. The old woman was making macaroni by hand by rolling the paste. We got set up round the back, the deck chairs from Ceci. Spent most of the day writing diary, reading etc, heavy rain during night. Lousy.

Monday 4th October
This morning Terry O’Connor came up and after talking went into San Severo with him. Found a good café and had several vermouths and chocolate. Damned good. Afterwards had a walk round for some time. Bought some brushes and found Mapus’ shop where I bought some silver thread and handkerchiefs. Got back for dinner. Slack p.m. Heavy rain during the night. Absolutely washed out.

Tuesday 5th October
Up early, still raining, bedding very wet. Up during night shifting about. Breakfast 06.30, moving at 07.00. Heavy rain stopped this move for two hours. Heard diversions ahead were blocked and washed away. Got moving very slowly by 09.30 but stopped for a long time. Found some perfect black grapes — five bunches eaten- guts! Many stops and starts all day. Got past worst diversion and on level stretch of road about 17.00. Stuck. Column many miles long. Suddenly over the sea to the north saw 9 FWs bombing convoy LCIs. Terrific surprise when I lowered glasses and to my horror saw one coming straight at me. Boy did I jump for it! Straight across road. Everything going at them as they went over very low. A lousy experience. After this everybody agitating to get going but did not do so for about an hour. Dark. Ordered to chaperone Brigadier’s and Brigade Major’s vehicles through with Healey. Did so. Made a good job. Then proceeded to lying up area near to another diversion. Bombed by the enemy regularly. During the afternoon and evening saw many chaps going back wounded and found out that all not going too well at Termoli(According to Cyril Ray, by the afternoon of October 5th the battle at Termoli was just being turned in the Allies favour, German forces having to withdraw after causing havoc to a large part of 78 Division, aided by the very wet weather. Much of the Irish Brigade had joined the latter stage of the battle by sea from Barletta, but without their transport, which was stuck in this convoy some 50 kms to the south. I can’t account for the apparent disparity in dates..) Had supper in the dark then dug in. On way back from cookhouse fell down slit trench. No damage and saved dinner! Called to conference and received orders to move 02.00 tomorrow. Got to bed thanks to Cowboy again, for two hours.

Wednesday 6th October
Smudger called me at 01.45, got up and packed on road at 02.00. The first diversion was bloody, damned great ruts and very muddy . Must have been nearly a mile long. Went along the column through two more of the worst bit of stuff I have ever ridden over. Browned off by the middle of the third one and stopped to talk to CMP for a bit, then on again. Burgoyne, Rowe, Wooller, Healey and I arrived in Campomarino simultaneously and I led the way on as by now it was getting light. At river bridge saw Cpl Luke CMP who told me things we pretty bad and road (too damned straight for my liking) was regularly shelled! I was awfully dithery but there was nothing for it but to go on so I led the others over this straight stretch at a hell of a pace. Arrived at 36 Brigade headquarters and they told us our HQ was in Termoli. On we went. Several houses on fire in distance. Up the hill nearly to the top when we saw two or three of our trucks beating it in the opposite direction. They would not stop so we turned round and chased them back some four miles only to learn that HQ really was in town! Back again and into Termoli past three burning three tonners of 11 Brigade. Found truck in cul de sac, and HQ in school in main street. Arrived there about 05.30. On arrival told must organise defence as enemy expected to counter attack at first light. Many people walking around with rifles, bayonets A/T guns tanks etc. I was apprehensive but thought jerry was not going to attack so sat down and had a smoke. Civilians dashing around not knowing what to do. The family on our truck was very shaky as they had children but I told them as best I could to stay where they were. They did so. Then jerry started shelling. At first very wildly, then more and more accurately. Capt Hobbs arrived on the scene soon after it started and was very cool about it all. His one worry was to get a jersey so I lent him mine. To top it all we had to dish up some maps to BM. A good thing to do something. I was surprised at myself because I was jumpy when the shelling started, but glad to say I soon got used to it again. By this time machine gunning was on the go, very close with bullets and ricochets all over the place. About 08.30 Command Post(7 senior officers) pulled out in armoured car for the rear. Lt Page Backhouse and Lt Room to move when ordered. Then it got worse. Jimmie Dunbar came round and we spent the best past of an hour close to the wall on our bellies, entertained by Eynon’s fly catching antics. Shrapnel was flying all around us, and the truck was hit three times. A salvo of three fell in the main street 50 yards in front of us. The wall shook but held. We were all anxious to leave this suicidal place and at 10.30 they ordered us out. Boy oh boy I rode better than Stanley Woods(Stanley Woods was one of the greatest motorcycle racers in the history of the Isle of Man TT.) down that road. On the way down a shell had killed a chap and blown a hole in the road. I arrived well in front of the rest in my Italian steel helmet as I couldn’t find my own. We were now set up about a mile out of Termoli. Jerry was shelling guns to our right and over us. Planes about twice, but nothing happened. Washed and shaved and changed and felt better. Office set up in truck and slit trenches dug. All happy. Our attack went well and we pushed jerry back the best part of five miles. The rout of 11 and 36 Brigades yesterday had almost given jerry command of the town and would have done but for our timely arrival. 36 Brigade suffered heavy casualties and the enemy tanks were 200 yards from their HQ! Jerry must have been very disappointed. Some PoW, Paras.(Got damned good pair of para gloves!), 79 PGR and 64 PGR. Capt Hobbs retired at night and slept with us.

Thursday 7th October
Up early as it started raining. A most miserable day. Continuous rain and tent leaking. Inside the tent a bog which we scattered with straw. Working inside truck. Captured enemy orders and other important documents from IRWF showed how near Jerry was to success. Many Italian civilians brought in including two Italian officers who brought …Steele in. His jeep (RAP) fell into a shell hole and cut his head. He was covered in blood and shaken. I dressed his head and quietened him. The two officers had much information. The Brigadier saw them and wanted one to stay as interpreter and servant, but the chap would not part with his pal. Both sent on about 00.00 and so to bed! A most hectic evening.

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