1st Medium Regiment RCA

Discussion in 'Canadian' started by Philip Reinders, Jun 3, 2008.

  1. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    As the infantry of the 1st Canadian Division and its accompanying armour closed up to the Hitler Line, the supporting guns had to move forward a number of times to keep within range. Forward Observation Officers and Artillery Representatives, previously allotted to the infantry and tanks, provided continuous close support, daring on the resources of the whole of the divisional artillery, with the fire of the 1st Canadian AGRA on call. To avoid the necessity of changing F.O.O.’s and representatives whenever their regiments came out of action to move, these remained forward with their affiliated brigades throughout, switching their wireless frequencies to the new unit whose guns they were now firing…

    More to come but at 3 am I'm going to call it a night!

    …By the afternoon of 19 May forward brigades had made contact with the outer defences of the Hitler Line, and early next morning General Leese issued orders for the Canadian Corps to attack and break the Line between Pontecorvo (on the left bank of the Liri) and the Forme d’Aquino. On the north side of the valley the 13th Corps was to maintain pressure on Aquino and to concentrate forward in readiness on the Canadians’ right once the break-through had been achieved. In his instructions for the operation, which was code-named “Chesterfield,”….

    The supporting fire plan for “Chesterfield”called for a heavy programme of artillery preparation to be fired while the assault was being mounted….All the artillery available on call participated, and by midnight 19/20 May approximately one thousand rounds per hour were falling on known enemy strongpoints. During the next 72 hours some 400 guns, provided by the artillery of the 1st and 5th Canadian Divisions, the 1st Canadian AGRA, the French Expeditionary Corps, and the United States 13th Field Artillery Brigade, continued this bombardment at various timings and rates of fire.
  2. Philip Reinders

    Philip Reinders Very Senior Member

    Thanks for the information so far
  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Michelle -
    fantastic stuff - the 5th Armoured Div. -along with the Medium Artillery - on arriving in Italy were asked to take over the equipment of 7th (Desert Rats) who had gone home by then - they rightly refused as it had been 'picked over' by the other divisions and only the obsolete stuff was left - they rightly refused ...and didn't do themselves any favours - and waited for 300 Shermans to arrive from the U.K. - then they got into a fight with the 1st Div. and Monty fired them sending them over to the US sector - that left 1st Div. without Tank support and both our Bde - 21st Tank Bde and 25th Tank Bde were " volunteered " for this support - which lasted until they all left for Belgium.
  4. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Michelle - your last posting - at 3a.m. - " when the 1st Division and it's accompnying armour reached the Hitler line" - this armour was Gerry Chester's 25th Bde - and as they moved up they wandered into a "killing ground" - and lost 14 Churchill Tanks with 30 dead and 36 wounded - in minutes - at the same time the 51st RTR were doing the same about half a mile away !...happily we were in reserve at that time !
  5. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    Michelle -
    fantastic stuff - the 5th Armoured Div. -along with the Medium Artillery - on arriving in Italy were asked to take over the equipment of 7th (Desert Rats) who had gone home by then - they rightly refused as it had been 'picked over' by the other divisions and only the obsolete stuff was left - they rightly refused ...and didn't do themselves any favours - and waited for 300 Shermans to arrive from the U.K. - then they got into a fight with the 1st Div. and Monty fired them sending them over to the US sector - that left 1st Div. without Tank support and both our Bde - 21st Tank Bde and 25th Tank Bde were " volunteered " for this support - which lasted until they all left for Belgium.

    Thanks Tom. It's always good to have anther personal perspective of someone who was there - in this case someone serving in the same place but in the military of another country - to add extra information to the histories.

    Something I should clarify is that The Gunners of Canada is the history of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, with Volume II covering 1919 to 1967. In the course of compiling the history, Col. Nicholson made use of the memories of serving and retired gunners, as well as unit historis, personal diaries and other documents, as well as the official records in the RCA museum, the Directorate of History at Canadian Forces HQ, as well as infoarmation conatined in the Directorate of War Service Records, and information onstatistics and decorations from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
    Bodston likes this.
  6. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Michelle -
    Lt. Col. Nicholson was extremely thorough - when you get finished with the Gunners - try his "Official History of the Canadians In Italy 1943-45' it's a classic - and there is a lot of the 'in fighting' that went on in Ottawa which starved them of reinforcements especially when they were so badly needed after the Liri valley - as it was they were cannibalising units to make up Infantry long before the British units went the same way. We both had little left after the Gothic Line.

    The Canadians left 6000 dead in Italy - and from a small population at that time - this was quite a large loss - and could only be replaced by massive immigration - happily mostly good stock.

    We always enjoyed working with them and there was always laughter - no matter the odds at the time...try some of my articles on the BBc series - mostly fun !
  7. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    The enemy was not slow to respond. From Mount Cairo, north of the valley, the Germans had the Allied gun areas under continual observation, which was only partly obscured by ground smoke. Many positions were heavily shelled. On the evening of 21 May the 17th Field Regiment, which had its guns behind the Forme d’Aquino, suffered casualties of four men killed and others wounded when a burning ammunition trailer attracted concentrated artillery fire. A much greater casualty toll was averted through the bravery of Lt. F.J.M. Archibald, who extricated himself from the slit trench in which he had been buried by an enemy shell, and despite the continuous shelling pulled the trays of burning ammunition from the trailer. Though seriously burned he was able with the aid of a number of gunners to extinguish the fire before a violent explosion occurred. This gallant action brought the young officer the award of the Military Cross.

    On the morning of the main attack the counter-preparation fire was scheduled to come down for ten minutes, to be followed by a counter battery programme using all available resources apart from the guns of the field artillery. A counter mortar programme carried out by three companies of 4.2-inch mortars (24 in all), three 4-gun troops of 25-pounders firing in upper register, and four troops f heavy anti-aircraft firing airburst, was scheduled to begin 30 minutes before H Hour against 32 fixes of hostile positions that the C.M.O. Staffs had established up to 22 May. The assaulting infantry, three battalions advancing with tanks on a two-brigade front, would have as close support a rolling barrage, concentrations, and smoke screens, timed to start at H minus 3 minutes.

    A total of 810 guns of all types were available for the whole artillery plan. This figure included the 76 medium and heavy guns which would be under the control of Headquarters 1st Canadian AGR for exclusive use on counter battery, and also the 52 guns and mortars allotted for counter mortar work. The 3,200-yard width of the rolling barrage allowed for an overlap of 500 yards on either side of the frontage on which the 2nd Infantry Brigade (right) and the 3rd Brigade (left) were attacking. The barrage extended 3,000 yards in depth, and was divided into two phases. In Phase I, which covered the first 75 minutes and was designed to carry the infantry to their intermediate objectives, the rate of advance was 100 yards in five minutes, with guns firing two rounds a minute. There would follow a pause of one hour for consolidation during which a protective screen would be laid down (1/2-round per minute); after that the second phase would continue at a faster rate of 100 yards in three minutes to the final line. Fire power, which was sufficient to cover a depth of 600 yards throughout, was distributed over six lanes of equal width, to come from 288 guns, furnished in progressive stages at the range increased by six field regiments three more field regiments, three medium regiments and six heavy batteries.

    Targets for the 32 concentrations originally planned were selected on the basis of information gained from forward infantry brigades, overprint maps, and air photographs. Most were area and linear targets, to be fired by an overwhelming mass of guns. Where the German defences were thickest , a number of these concentrations were superimposed over the barrages. All in all, it would be a most impressive demonstration of fire power in support of a major assault.
  8. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    At some time in the small hours of Monday morning, 22 May, final details of the fire plan had been settled…An unforeseen complication had been the arrival during the night of the C.O. of the 2nd Field, Lt.-Col. Steuart-Jones, with a small plan which his regiment was to fire that morning in support of an attack that the 1st Brigade was making against Pontecorvo in the hope of turning the Hitler Line defences from the left. “In some way which the staff could never figure out afterwards,” recorded the Headquarters diary, “traces were made and on their way to the regiments and infantry in time to be distributed before H Hour.: This attack by the 1st Brigade on the 22nd, while unsuccessful in achieving a breakthrough at Pontecorvo, made a penetration which resulted in the cancellation of concentrations and smoke screen that had been planned for the 23rd in the area south of the barrage. The artillery support thus freed was superimposed to good effect over the remaining concentrations of the main fire plan. For officers and men of the 1st Anti-Tank Regiment, the highlight of the 1st Brigade’s action came when one of the 51st Battery’s 17-pounders scored two direct hits at 1,600 yards on the tank turret of a German pillbox. The 75-mm gun, which was believed to have already accounted for three Sherman tanks, was destroyed and its crew of five killed.

    A thick morning haze shrouded the floor of the Liri Valley early on 23 May, as of 4:05 the thunderous roar of many guns sounded the opening of the heaviest fire plan to be executed in support of a single division by the Western Allies up to that stage of the war. The initial ten-minute bombardment was followed by a crushing half-hour counter battery programme, and at 5:57 the barrage opened. Three minutes later the assaulting battalions crossed the start line. The two 2nd Brigade units – the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry – were caught in a deadly cross-fire which came from German paratroopers in Aquino, and they were heavily hit from the front by enemy machine-guns whose crews emerged from their deep shelters after the barrage had passed. There was little effective aid from their supporting tanks, which were caught in a minefield and were being knocked out one after another by fire from the deadly cupolas of the Hitler Line. It became necessary for the artillery to extend indefinitely at reduced rates of fire the pause in the barrage with its protective screen. Instead of the 60 minutes originally planned it continued at rates of “slow” and “very slow” for 575 minutes. During the afternoon a series of armoured counter-attacks, principally from the direction of Aquino, were beaten off by Canadian tanks with the support of heavy concentrations – generally “Yoke” targets scale 5 – fired from either the 1st Canadian AGRA or the 6th AGRA. At one o’clock, just 33 minutes after the Canadian Divisional Headquarters had passed the request to the C.C.R.A. 1st Canadian Corps, a “William” target (the first to employ all the guns of an Allied army during the Second World War) was fired against a small area about Aquino. Nineteen field, nine medium, and two heavy regiments took part, and in a space of little more than a minute 74 tons of high explosive crashed down on the already badly-battered town, which was now completely demolished.

    To break the impasse in the advance, shortly after midday General Vokes ordered an exploitation of the 3rd Brigade’s success, committing his divisional reserve. The barrage for Phase II needed no change; but the protective screen over the final objective (which were somewhat changed) was replaced by a series of concentrations which would also serve as defensive fire tasks once these objectives were taken. At 4:50 P.M. the West Nova Scotia Regiment, “leaning on the barrage,” attacked through the Carleton and Yorks, to be followed by the Royal 22e. Enemy reserves moving forward were caught in the open by the artillery and badly demoralized. By shortly after six o’clock the objective had been taken, and at the end of the day which had seen the hardest fighting which Canadian troops had experienced in Italy the 3rd Brigade was firmly established west of the wide gap it had made through the defences of the Hitler Line. During the period of consolidation and mopping up, the artillery of the 1st Division fired 14 “Uncle” targets and many “Mike” targets. As these were engaged by F.O.O.’s, artillery representatives, and Air O.P.’s, the successive plots of these targets on the map clearly indicated the direction of the enemy’s withdrawal. Firing these last targets had brought the day’s expenditure of ammunition by the divisional artillery regiments to some 500 rounds per gun. Before the battle started, 400 r.p.g. had been dumped, and batteries had taken advantage of the extended pause in the morning barrage to replenish their stocks, so that by nightfall each battery had approximately 400 r.p.g. on hand.

    The day’s achievement owed much to the contribution made by the artillery; and each gunner unit that took part would have some particular aspect of the battler to remember. The 1st Anti-Tank would not readily forget the mortar concentrations which knocked out three of the 27th Battery’s guns, wounding eight members of “C” Troop; but it would take pride in the Military Medal awarded to Gnr. Hubert J. Snow for his work in evacuating the casualties under fire. Another unit to suffer from the enemy’s retaliatory mortaring was the 2nd L.A.A. Regiment, whose “E” Troop sustained several casualties while covering the 3rd Brigade’s foremost defended lines. A heavy toll in observing officers cost the 3rd Field one killed and one wounded on 23 May, and another killed next day. When one O.P. crew was hit by a mortar burst, Gnr. Lawrence F. Catton was the only man to escape being killed or wounded. His subsequent bravery in remaining at his post under persistent mortar fire, and keeping his wireless operating until relief arrived, earned him the Military Medal. The day’s fighting brought immediate M.C.’s to two more foreward observation officers of the 1st R.C.H.A. – Captain Aaron Robinson and Captain Peter G. Newll – and in the same regiment the Military Medal to a driver, Gnr. Livin Frigault, and a wireless operator, Bdr. Philip N. Higley, for their coolness and devotion to duty under fire. Under the 1st C.B.O. Staff could give thanks for one of the more fortunate escapes of the war. Early in the afternoon, while virtually the entire staff were gathered around the kitchen, where a sergeant was handing out mail, there suddenly landed within a few feet of them a 17-cm shell – luckily a dud.
  9. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    The 5th Canadian Armoured Division now joined the battle. The position of the 3rd Brigade’s breach of the Hitler Line necessitated shifting the axis of the exploiting forces about a mile to the left. This create a serous traffic problem, which was intensified by an afternoon rain which made track very greasy, and in places all but impassable to armour….Because of the congestion of traffic, however, the advance had to be postponed until the morning of the 24th….

    The C.R.A. 5th Armoured Division and his staff now had to produce a new fire plan at short notice. In the original plan to support the break-out, all the artillery in the Eighth and Fifth Armies that could bear (some 480 guns) was to be made available to Brigadier Sparling. But this fire power was considerably reduced as a result of the changed in axis and the postponement of the advance; for the guns of the 13th Corps would now be needed on the 78th Division’s Piedimonte-Aquino front, at the north side of the valley. In the revised fire plan, Sparling had available on the artillery of the 1st Canadian Corps – in all, 236 guns [from footnote: the breakdown was 152 field guns – from the 1st R.C.H.A., the 2nd, 3rd, 11th, and 17th R.C.A., the 142nd (S.P.) Regt. R.A., and the 64th Battery of the165th Light Regt. (Jeep) R.A.; the 64 medium guns of the 1st, 2nd, and 5th Medium Regts. R.C.A., and the 51st Medium Ret. R.A.; and 20 heavy guns (two 7.2” batteries and one 155-mm. battery) from the 32nd Heavy Regt. R.A.] – but as things turned out, this proved sufficient for his purpose. His plan called for two series of “stonks,” the second of which was made unnecessary by the rapid advance of the 5th Armoured Brigade.

    Note from Michelle, while this is meant to be primarily about the 1st Medium Regiment, R.C.A. – no unit fights alone and therefore the history must include the actions of other artillery, infantry, and armour in order to place the history of the regiment in perspective. At the same time, I find it virtually impossible to bypass stories of gallantry or sacrifice (when encountering them in the History of the Royal Artillery Regiment of Canada) by those not in the 1st Medium as it seems a disservice to those who should also be remembered.

    Each battle group, consisting of an armoured regiment with lorry-borne infantry, was accompanied by a self-propelled battery of the 4th Anti-Tank Regiment R.C.A. – the 98th Battery with the British Columbia Dragoons (Vokes Force) , and the 82nd Battery with Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Griffin Force). Further close support came from the 8th Field Regiment (S.P.), which had under command as a fourth battery the 64th Jeep Battery R.A., of eight 75-mm pack howitzers. As the advance parties of the 8th Field, under the 2 i/c, Major W.P. Doohan, were preparing gun positions in the Pontecorvo area from which to cover the projected Melfa bridgehead, they were hit by a flurry of 88-mm shells, which killed 11 and wounded 16 more. It was a heavy toll, and the more keenly felt as it marked the Regiment’s first casualties in action.

    The advance of Vokes Force, with the armour leading, went as planned. Half way to the Melfa, Griffin Force passed through, and by 3:30 P.m. the Stratcona’s Reconnaissance Troop has seized a small bridgehead across the river. Before the afternoon ended, this little band had been reinforced by the Westminster Regiment’s “A” Company, whose commander, Major J.K. Mahony, would win the V.C. for his subsequent gallant defense of the bridgehead against repeated counter-attacks. The artillery representative with the Westminsters drew up defensive fire tasks and sent them back for engagement by the 8th Field Regiment and the medium regiments of the 1st Canadian AGRA. Throughout the day’s advance the two self-propelled anti-tank batteries had done good work in “house-busting,” and the 98th Battery had accounted for its first enemy tank – knocking out a Panther Mark V with two rounds. The mobility of the self-propelled equipments, which enabled the anti-tank guns to meet the demands of the rapidly shifting battle, was demonstrated by the fact that between 5:30 and 7:00 P.M. one of the batteries occupied no fewer than five different fire position in the immediate vicinity of the Melfa. In such fluid operations the frequency with which the “no firing” line was changed to conform with the Foremost Defended Lines meant that predicted shooting was difficult even for counter battery, and most of such shoots had to be observed by either Air O.P. or Artillery Reconnaissance. During the battle the sites of 53 hostile batteries were overrun and taken off the list of C.B. targets.

    A warm tribute to the 1st Canadian AGRA came from General Vokes on the 24th:

    I can assure you that your support had a major share in our success. We appreciate this. We ask nothing better than your support in any future operation which we may undertake. We wish that you were part of this Division, and we shall consider you in future as such.
  10. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    When on the morning of May 25, the 11th Infantry Brigade began its efforts to extend the Melfa bridgehead, the only artillery ini position to give support was the 8th Field. Attempts by the 11th Army Field to get forward on the previous day had been frustrated by the congestion on the roads, which were jammed with the armoured regiments moving up, as well as by the normal flow of maintenance traffic. It was almost midnight before batteries were able to join the slow-moving stream of vehicles, only to be ordered off the road again near Pontecorvo, some distance short of their intended positions, to make room, they were told, for a priority convoy. They were in an adjacent field, wearily preparing breakfast, when a red-faced officer brought word that the “priority convoy” for which the road had been cleared was in fact none other than the 11th Field itself!....

    A crossing of the Melfa immediately above its junction with the Liri by a task force of infantry and armour from the two Canadian Divisions helped to hasten the enemy’s withdrawal…

    Difficulties bridging the Liri delayed a continuation of the Canadian advance until first light in 29 May, as the 78th Division was given priority in the use of the Canadian bridge at Ceprano. As an armoured force of the 5th Brigade pushed forward between Highway 6 and the Sacco River, directed on the hill towns of Pofi and Arnara, it had the 98th (S.P.) Anti-Tank Battery with it, as well as the direct support of the 8th Field Regiment and the 142nd Field Regiment R.A. (Royal Devon Yeomanry), both self-propelled. The latter had come under command of H.Q. 5th Armoured Division R.C.A. on the previous day, as the 1st Divisional Artillery began a brief period out of action….

    The Perth Regiment captured Pofi on the 29th, as the 11th Infantry Brigade followed up the armour; and on the 31st a Perth Company entered Arnara unopposed. That morning, command of the Canadian sector passed to Maj.-Gen. Vokes, because the difficult country leading to Forsinone seemed better suited to infantry than to armour. The artillery of the 1st Division thus had its rest suddenly terminated. As the 3rd Field Regiment was completing a long move forward to a position near Pofi, one of the 92nd Battery’s gun tractors received a direct hit, and burst into flames,. Despite the gallant efforts of a motorcyclist with the Battery, Gnr. Alexander E. Powell, who dived into the burning ruin with a find disregard of the exploding ammunition, and the shelling that the sight of the flames had encouraged the enemy gunners to intensify, all seven members of the gun crew perished. Powell’s bravery was to bring him an award of the Military Medal.
  11. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    By the time the rest of the divisional artillery had reached their new area south of Frosinone, the need of the advancing infantry for supporting fire was coming to an end., The enemy’s retreat along Highway 6 was fast becoming a rout. Ferentino was captured on 2 June, and Anagni on the following day. The 6th South African Armoured Division was in the process of taking over from the 1st Canadian Division, a brigade at a time, while the advance was continuing…..

    …Brigadier Ziegler was able to get priority on a 10-mile stretch of highway for half an hour in order to move the 1st and 3rd Field Regiments forward from Frosinone to gun areas beyond Ferentino. A quiet tip was passed to the 5th Medium Regiment to have Regimental Headquarters and one battery ready on wheels, to await the code-word “Poodle.” “Poodle” came through at 6:30 A.M. on 3 June, and as the two field regiments, travelling with the barest minimum of transport, took to the road – the South African tanks having been moved well over to the verge to make room – the 23rd Medium Battery and Lt.-Col. Hanna’s R.H.Q. squeezed in behind them.

    An officer of the 5th Medium has described the mad dash that followed.

    They were off. Vehicles and guns roared away at top speed past the waiting tanks, whose crews lined the road and cheered us as we swung along. Fifty miles an hour, and the heavy guns bounced like corks on a high sea; fifty miles and hour over shell-marked Route 6 to the cheers of the tankmen, and on through the battered remains of Ferentino, to wheel at last off the road and into position on a plain sprawled under the hilltop village of Anagani.

    Within minutes of their arrival in their new gun areas, regiments were deployed and in action. The South African Divisional Artillery were still somewhere back along the crowded roads; and during the day the 4.5’s of the 5th Medium fired several times in support of the South African infantry and armour, as well as engaging by Air O.P. enemy transport withdrawing along roads north of Anagni.

    It was the final contribution by Canadian artillery in the battle for Rome. The evening of the 4th brought news that the city had fallen to troops of the United States Fifth Army. Guns came out of action as the 1st Canadian Corps was ordered into army reserve and began moving to a rest area in the valley of the upper Volturno.

    The battle had lasted less than a month, but in that comparatively brief period two strong German defence lines had been smashed, and the Eighth Army had advanced more than 40 miles. Canadian guns had been in action almost without rest. Illustrative of the vast expenditure of ammunition was the 2nd Medium Regiment’s record of having fired 22,000 rounds in 21 days. Artillery staffs, particularly those of the 5th Armoured Division in the pursuit phase of “Chesterfield,” had gained useful experience in meeting the challenge of providing close support at all times in a moving battle. In this the gunners had been splendidly aided by No. 654 Air O.P. Squadron R.A.F., whose observers, besides registering targets and directing shoots, had given valuable information about the location of forward troops and enemy dispositions, and had undertaken the reconnaissance of roads and potential gun areas.
  12. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    The move of the various headquarter and units of the artillery of the 1st Canadian Corps to the Volturno Valley took place during the second and third week of June 1944. The C.C.R.A. and his staff returned with Corps Headquarters to its former location at Sant’ Angelo d’Alife, near Raviscanina, with the 1st Divisional Artillery extending eastward to Piedimonte d’Alife. A dozen miles farther east Headquarters 1st AGRA and its regiments were in Guadia – San Lorenzo area, on the north bank of the Calore, major tributary of the Volturno. Last to be transferred was the 5th Divisional Artillry, which left Pofi on the 14th and 15th, to settle temporarily about Dragoni, on the Volturno’s west bank, opposite Piedimonte.

    “Plans were for a real rest before embarking on training programmes.” So the war diary of Headquarters 1st Divisional Artillery hopefully recorded on 9 June. It would take a little while to arrange for the necessary training areas; and divisional and corps staffs were still working on their reports of the recent operations and drawing up lists of “lessons learned” that must be the subject of special attention in future training. In the meantime the regiments were directed to carry out maintenance on guns and equipment while settling down in their new areas and, as far as was consistent with these instructions to arrange for a maximum of rest and leaves. Units dispatched their men for periods of up to five days in Rome, Naples and Pompeii and week-long leaves at the big rest camps at Bari and Salerno. Officers enjoyed a brief period of relaxation at Amalfi and other places on the beautiful Sorrento Peninsula…..Unit parties were taken on excursions to bathing beaches in Salerno Bay and the Gulf of Gaeta. The 11th Army Field Regiment established its own regimental rest camp at Gaveta, on the northwestern tip of the Gulf of Naples….

    Administrative staffs and the auxiliary services did what they could to make life as agreeable as possible in the unit areas. There were almost nightly movies; and an occasional visiting band or concert party staging a performance in the regimental lines could be assured of an enthusiastic reception, particularly when, as in the case of the Canadian Army Show, there were such additional bonuses as a number of good-looking CWAC’s in the cast. Softball and volley ball teams battled in knock-out competition for the Corps supremacy. The 1st Medium’s softball nine made a lot of money for its backers as it won its way to the AGRA championship, only to lose out to an R.C.A.S.C. team in the Corps play-offs. The Corps championship was taken by the representatives of the 5th Armoured Division, the 5th L.A.A. Regiment, which defeated the P.P.C.L.I., winners in the 1st Division. A well-organized Canadian Forces Sports Day took place at the Sant’ Angelo airstrip on 27 June. Corps Troops, whose competing team was made up largely of gunners, finished on top, followed in succession by the 5th and 1st Divisions.

    Once suitable areas had been established, units began an active programme of training. …From the AGRA ranges southwest of Benevento medium regiments carried out predicted and observed shooting at a target area on the slopes of Mount Taburno half a dozen miles to the west. The artillery staffs at formation headquarters held study periods which took into account some of the problems encountered in the recent fighting….In the rolling country south of San Lorenzo, Headquarters 1st AGRA staged Exercise “Gothic,” a two-day scheme involving the 1st C.B.O. Staff, the 1st Survey Regiment and the command post staffs of the medium regiments in a practical examination of the counter battery aspects of a set-piece attack (the deployment area was considered as being “somewhere in Northern Italy.)…

    Reveille at 5:00 made for a long day. To avoid the oppressive heat of the afternoon, training began early each morning and stopped before midday. After the noon meal, a prolonged siesta might be followed by volleyball or softball. Evenings would find many patronizing the unit canteen, where men who had become a bit browned-off from training which was accompanied by no immediate prospect of a return to action “vented their felling in vio Rosso and sweet song.”…

    While the Canadian Corps was in the Volturno Valley an important reorganization took place in the 5th Armoured Division. Operations in the rugged Italian terrain, which suited well the enemy’s style of close defensive fighting and his delaying tactics in withdrawal, had pointed to the necessity of providing the Eighth Army with a second infantry brigade. A request from General Burns to have an operational brigade from Canada sent to Italy was vetoed by the War Office on the grounds that no “diversions from Overlord” could be allowed. Instead, a new formation, the 12th Canadian Infantry Brigade, to be commanded by Brigadier D.C. Spry, was formed from units already in Italy. Affecting the artillery was the transfer of the 11th Army Field Regiment to the 5th Armoured Division to support the battalions of the new brigade, and the conversion of the 1st Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment to become one of those infantry battalions. Having to change their patches and drop “Army” from their name by no means pleased the members of the 11th Field Regiment. The 8th Field, with whom they had been brothers in arms and sometimes rivals in army field days at Bordon, welcomed them warmly to the 5th Division, and the festive evening held on 22 July, when Lt.-Col. Birks and his Regiment invited the officers, warrant officers and sergeants of the 11th Field to a buffet supper followed by a corn roast with liquid refreshments, was an occasion long to be remembered.
  13. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    On 15 July the 1st L.A.A. Regiment paraded before Lt.-Col. Thorne for the last time as artillery and then turned in its Bofors guns to Ordnance. The war in Europe had reached a stage in which the overwhelming Allied air superiority over orthodox air attack had left little for the A.A. gunners to do. Many heavy anti-aircraft batteries were already winning recognition as medium artillery as they were being employed almost exclusively on ground shoots. Being less suited to such a role, light A.A. units were reduced in number and their personnel absorbed into infantry. Conversion of the 1st L.A.A. Regiment in The Lanark and Renfrew Scotttish Regiment went ahead rapidly, Lt.-Col. Thorne being succeeded in the command by an infantry officer, Lt.-Col. W.C. Dick. At about the same time a change in the establishment of a light anti-aircraft regiment reduced the size of a battery from three to two troops. The 2nd and 5th Regiments sadly gave up three troops each. Of the resulting surplus personnel, some officers and the N.C.O.’s and tradesmen went to the 2nd Canadian Base Reinforcement Depot at Eboli; the remaining personnel ceased to be artillery on transferring to the new infantry battalion. The 5th L.A.A. Regiment was further depleted when it gave up most of its 47th Battery to form a Movement Control Group for the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, which had been plagued by traffic confusion during the fighting in the Liri Valley. The new unit was given special training in traffic control duties, and it rendered valuable service during the rest of the campaign in Italy, during the transfer to North-West Europe, and its operation in Holland.

    The stay in the Volturno Valley culminated on 31 July with a special inspection by an important senior officer, “General Collingwood,” who turned out to be no less a person than King George VI. His Majesty, who was accompanied by the Supreme Allied Commander Mediterranean, General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, had come to decorate Major Mahoney, of the Westminster Regiment, with his V.C.

    From http://wwii.ca/page3.html

    [Major John Keefer Mahony
    Melfa River, Italy
    May 24th, 1944
    The Westminster Regiment
    'On the 24th May, 1944, "A" Company of the Westminster Regiment (Motor), under the command of Major Mahony, was ordered to establish the initial bridgehead across the River Melfa.

    The enemy still had strong forces of tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry holding defensive positions on the east side of the river. Despite this, Major Mahony personally led his company down to and across the river, being with the leading section. Although the crossing was made in full view of and under heavy fire from enemy machine-gun posts on the right rear and left front, he personally directed each section into its proper position on the west bank with the greatest coolness and confidence. The crossing was made and a small bridgehead was established on ground where it was only possible to dig shallow weapon pits. From 1530 hours the company maintained itself in the face of enemy fire and attack until 2030 hours, when the remaining companies and supporting weapons were able to cross the river and reinforce them.

    The bridgehead was enclosed on three sides by an 88 mm. Self-propelled gun 450 yards to the right, a battery of four 2cm. A.A. guns 100 yards to the left, a Spandau 100 yards to the left of it, to the left of the Spandau a second 88 mm. Self-propelled gun, and approximately a company of infantry with mortars and machine-guns on the left of the 88 mm. gun. From all these weapons, Major Mahony's company was constantly under fire until it eventually succeeded in knocking out the self-propelled equipment and the infantry on the left flank.

    Shortly after the bridgehead had been established, the enemy counter-attacked with infantry supported by tanks and self-propelled guns. The counter-attack was beaten off by the company with its P.I.A.T.'s (1), 2" mortars and grenades, due to the skill with which Major Mahony had organized his defences. With absolute fearlessness and disregard for his own safety, Major Mahony personally directed the fire of his P.I.A.T.'s throughout this action, encouraging and exhorting his men. By this time, the company strength had been reduced to 60 men, and all but one of the Platoon Officers had been wounded. Scarcely an hour later, enemy tanks formed up about 500 yards in front of the bridgehead and in company with about a Company of infantry, launched a second counter-attack. Major Mahony, determined to hold the position at all costs, went from section to section with words of encouragement, personally directing fire of mortars and other weapons.

    At one stage, a section was pinned down in the open by accurate and intense machine-gun fire. Major Mahony crawled forward to their position, and by throwing smoke grenades, succeeded in extricating the section from its position with the loss of only one man. This counter-attack was finally beaten off with the destruction of three enemy self-propelled guns and one Panther tank.

    Early in the action, Major Mahony was wounded in the head and twice in the leg, but he refused medical aid and continued to direct the defence of the bridgehead, despite the fact that movement of any kind caused him extreme pain. It was only when the remaining companies of the regiment had crossed the river to support him that he allowed his wounds to be dressed and even then refused to be evacuated, staying instead with his company.
    The forming and holding of a bridgehead across the river was vital to the whole Canadian Corps action, and failure would have meant delay, a repetition of the attack, probably involving heavy losses in men, material and time, and would have given the enemy a breathing space which might have broken the impetus of the Corps' advance.

    Major Mahony, knowing this, never allowed the thought of failure or withdrawal to enter his mind, and infused his spirit and determination into all his men. At the first sign of hesitation or faltering, Major Mahony was there to encourage, by his own example, those who were feeling the strain of battle. The enemy perceived that this officer was the soul of the defence and consequently fired at him constantly with all weapons, from rifle to 88 mm. guns. Major Mahony completely ignored the enemy fire and with great courage and absolute disregard for personal danger, commanded his company with such great confidence, energy and skill that the enemy's efforts to destroy the bridgehead were all defeated.

    The great courage shown by Major Mahony in this action will forever be an inspiration to his Regiment and to the Canadian Army.']

    Next will be The Assault on the Gothic Line
  14. macrusk

    macrusk Proud Daughter

    Thank you, Mr. Canning, for the additional information and the referenced book. Someday, I hope I can pay my respects to those lost in Italy, in addition to those in NW Europe.
  15. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Michelle - you will note on your message #32 - that when a request for an extra brigade for 5th Armoured Div was vetoed by Ottawa - it was just after D day and the losses were adding up and decimating the reserves available -at about the same time the big arguements were flowing about conscription etc - as a consquence both 5th and 1st Divs were short of trained troops and paid the price in increased casualties during the month long Gothic Line battle.
    Another book you should get hold of as soon as you can is "None of Us were Brave' by Stan Scislowski of the Perth Regt - 11th bde of 5th Armoured - he writes agood tale and also his account of his visit to Cassino cemetery long after the war - BUT you might need three boxes of Kleenex - her is the link ...

    BBC - WW2 People's War - Remembrance at the Cassino War Cemetery
  16. steadyeddy

    steadyeddy Junior Member

    Tom: I posted a message on this forum some time ago and had a very quick response with a lot of help from Stan Scislowski. After all this time, I've now been given his book as a Christmas present and wanted to say how much I'm enjoying it. (A relative of mine who served with the Perth Rgmnt is buried in Montecchio Cemetery.)

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