- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Major Tom Averill TDRA
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- Background to story:
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- Contributed on:
- 02 February 2005
Before the 67th Field Regiment left Tunis and Cap Bon in North Africa it took part in mountain warfare training in October 1943 at the French Artillery camp at Bou Ficha then in November we moved towards Bizerta, split into three groups and made for Naples and Toranto. The last group were delayed and we did not leave until December 3rd.
En route we sailed past Mount Etna and Stromboli, which was erupting, and was quite a sight. Vesuvious was quiet.
On December 10th we had moved by road to Minervino and were preparing for Christmas; with rumours in the background that we were, in Senior Commanders minds, due for a special assignment and training with the 5th Army and American 6th Corps. We had just got over Christmas, which was well supplied with Turkey and wine when on New Year's eve I was placed in charge of a large column of vehicles and guns and was ordered to paint out the white Divisional signs on the vehicles and proceed north, this I did for some considerable distance and then returned to discover that our objective was still undecided.
THE BUILD UP.
However the presence of DUKWS (Amphibious vehicles) and L.S.T's (Landing ship tanks) at Salerno put our minds to boggle.
These American driven vehicles were designed to ferry 105mm Field Guns which were narrower than our 25 PDR'S (POUNDERS)
and so work was going on to widen them to facilitate loading and unloading.
When completed we did some practice runs, including driving in and out of the L.S.T's My troop were highly commended by the Army Commander who said if the actual operation went as smoothly as theirs there would be no worries. We had discovered that the main thing was that the drivers should not rush it, especially with a gun, limber and seven men aboard. Gas capes with the waist firmly tied were used as life jackets, tin helmets as baling utensils when the pumps ceased to operate. I remember all these incidents, as if it were yesterday.
Also included in the assault force were Bofor Ack Ack guns and small mobile cranes for lifting the guns and stores in and out of the boats.
Major General Lucas inspected the Regiment after the full scale practice and so after weeks of rumours and speculations it was quite clear that the Regiment were to be the spearhead of the assault landing which was to take place on 22nd January 1944 South of Rome, and this turned out to be Peter Beach, Anzio with the Americans at Nettuno 238 Field Corp of the Royal Engineers would be in the vangaurd to clear any mines, and a rocket ship was to open fire at 0200 on January 22nd.
The Assault Landing
The loading onto the L.S.T's went smoothly and we set sail into fairly rough waters and spent a considerable amount of time sculling around when suddenly we received a signal that the rocket ship was about to fire on to the landing beach, this was a horrific spectacle and the noise was tremendous, we then made for the shore and the R.E's found only a few mines that had not exploded and lanes were white taped for us to proceed forward. The cranes unloaded our guns and we were soon ready for action to support the North Staffs and 6th Gordons followed by the 1st Loyals who soon reached their objectives, finding most of the enemy half asleep! When daylight came we were attacked by three enemy light bombers and the bofor guns shot down two of them, much to the delight of our gun crews.
A roll call was taken and it was confirmed that only one DUKW with its cargo of a gun and limber was missing; it had sunk when leaving the L.S.T, but its crew and American driver had sunk when leaving the L.S.T.but its crew and American driver had been picked up - the gas capes had done thier job, and the driver was forgiven for apparently driving too fast down the ramp.
We learned later that the landing was a complete surprise to the Germans, who thought it would take place North of Rome instead of South.
The naval bombardement was quite tremendous and the sky was lit up with flares and flashes and the sight of the invasion force rolling forward wa a great lift and encouragement not a sound or lights came from the shore and it passed through my mind that the earlier dummy run that I had made had possibly fooled the enemy. After all these hazardous and exciting hours we settled down dug slit trenches, gun pits and were ready to support the infantry. I paused and considered this area to be far better than tthe filthy and smelly streets of Naples and Salerno. An observation post was established at the fly over bridge at daylight and an 88 mm German gun opened up, also some Messershmit aeroplanes, but were soon chased off by our cover severfal raids were made on Anzio but our Bofors opened up and chased them off.
Ist German Counter Attack.
When the Germans had recovered from the initial landing it was not until the first week of February that their first counter attack took place and this was designed to push us back into the sea. The main thrust was down the main road towards the floyover and everyone "stood to" to repel it, even clearks, mechanics and R.H.Q personnel. A study of the ordinance maps showed a very tricky terrain in front of us; many wadis, caves and marshy land, ideal for concealing mortars and enemy S.P. guns. My troop was singled out to provide "upper register fire" and to increase the angle of sight, the trail of the guns was dug in giving a 45% elevation as opposed to the normal 15%. This enabled the shells to drop down into the wadis without hitting the crest, fortunately the necessary meteorlogical corrections were available. My turn soon arrived for me to man the flyover O.P. This included a hazardous drive in a carrier over many shell holes and usually attracted mortar and machine gun fire.
On my second visit, I had only just arrived when there was an almighty explosion , which knocked myself and the outgoing officer to the ground and amongst the equipment and kit fortunately no one was wounded and the wireless sets were untouched. We discovered an 88mm German S.P. gun shell had exploded right on the aperture in the bank. The 36th U.S. Combat Engineers were given the task of defending the coast line at Anzio and our Regiment would support them. They soon proved to be very efficient, especially in regard to booby traps and established outposts within speaking range of the enemy!
From an observation post in their area, I was priviledged to fire on deep German emplacements using a British Cruiser called HMS JANUS, later bombed and sunk. Orders were given on the wireless and with the first salvo from 4 guns only one correction in range was necessary before fire for effect was given. An air OP pilot later reported that considerable damage was caused.
2nd German Counter Attack
In the centre and going north from the Flyover was the Campoleone Railway Station and the factory at Carrocetto where the main battle raged and the 2nd Sherwood Foresters, Irish Guards, KSL1 were heavily involved in addition to the 2nd Infantry Brigade in the heart of the German attack were the Sherwood Foresters, who lost their C.O. Adjutant and all the Company Commanders, one corporal and 16 men remained out of 116 men. Another company was down to 20 and the other to 40. An American tank commander risked his life to contact the Corporal and 16 men and finally relieved them at dawn. At the end of the day's fighting only 8 officers and 250 men were left in the Battalion. Also badly mauled were the 6th Gordon Highlanders, who were being supported by Captain K Jupp of the 67th Field Regiment - a military Observers report is attached to this sheet. Captain Jupp was awarded an M.C. and his signaller an M.M for their gallant action.
The German 88mm S.P guns and the 6 barreled Nebelwerfers were responsible for many casualties, especially amongst the 2nd infantry Brigade, which included the 2nd North Staffs. 1st Loyals and 6th Gordons who were very ably supported by major D. Whatley, Major D. Shepherd and Captain M. Roberts of the 67th Field Regiment.
Information from two German P.O.W's that Hitler had ordered 20 men from the front line to be brought back for him to question them because he could not accept the seniour officers reasons as to why they had failed to win this second attack.
The weather during these attacks I remember was very cold, wet and atrocious underfoot and heavy shelling from Anzio Annie, which had previously been harrasing Nettuno had switched to Anzio.
This was a large mobile Railway gun which had a barrel 70 ft long and fired a shell of 560 lbs Max range 38 miles. Fortunately a proportion of the shells did not explode and one such of these landed in the side of my gun position command post, making a thunderous screech and almighty thud. The smell of burnt earth followed, but no hissing sound. Thank God I said, another dud, we looked at one another, lit another cigarette and then made a dash for the entrance where we discoverdd another shell had demolished a gun tractor and another had set fire to an ammunition dump. We were happy to be still alive, and breathed a sigh of relief that the German attack had been in vain and that we still held the Flyover. A lull now took place, and we strengthened our defences. Meanwhile the 8th Army were at last winning the battle at Cassino and we broke out of the Blackhead on June 5th and headed for Rome, then Florence and finally the Gothic Line.
Casualties and Awards in the Beachhead.
4 M.C's Military Crosses.
2 Mention in Despatches
2 Military Medals
Killed in Action: 22 Including 13 N.C.O's, 8 Sergeants, 5 Bombadiers.
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