Casa Sinagoga, 16th May 1944.

Discussion in 'Italy' started by bexley84, May 16, 2016.

  1. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    SCAN0424.JPG Remembering today, friends and comrades of my Dad (CQMS Edmund O'Sullivan) including those who fell 72 years ago - Sgt Edward Charles Mayo MM, Sgt Edward O'Reilly MM and Corporal James Barnes - and also to thank the Sinagoga family who provided shelter to men of 2 LIR that night..

    Lt Colonel John Horsfall recalled the attack:

    "...As the last livid seconds ticked by, true to form, the whole of the divisional artillery’s seventy two guns opened up virtually simultaneously – so perfectly timed that the reports of individual guns were lost in the avalanche of projectiles screaming over our positions. Seconds later, the medium batteries further behind us joined in and the landscape ahead just vanished under a pitch black thunder cloud, pierced by the dancing orange lightning of the shell bursts. In a minute or two, the whole scene in front of us and the blue sky over it were blotted out in smoke and flame and dust. Thereafter for a while, no speech was possible in the open – but thank God for the headphones and Pat Scott’s (Brigadier TPD Scott DSO and bar) quiet voice coming through….

    I was immensely relieved to see ‘H’ Company and some of ‘E’ get to their feet and move steadily forward. The rest were beyond my vision. That sight was decisive. Once started, I knew now that all would be well. Pat knew that too, and said so when I reported moments later.

    The 16th/5th Lancers did not move until our men reached the first rise several hundred yards ahead. Then, the tanks motored slowly forward to cover them on to the next lot of hummocks. This was the signal for German reaction and the enemy replied with massive concentrations pitched well inside the line of our barrage. It was mostly blind firing on their part, but effective nonetheless, and time after time there were the vicious orange flashes of their 5.9s bursting amongst ‘H’ Company.

    However, during this critical period, a lot of the German artillery was shooting and much of their fire was coming down round the tanks, which were relatively immune save for direct hits. Unfortunately, ‘F’ got a good many of the overs. As the reserve company at that time, Colin Gibbs’ (Major CAF Gibbs MC) men well in the rear of the others.

    The initial ordeal of the forward companies was brief enough as they raced over the battlefield. To begin with, our opponents in open trenches were easily collared as our men were in to them while they were taking cover. However, the buildings were a different matter and, whenever we saw our men held up, the supporting 16th/5th tanks worked up to them and literally pulverised the opposition by direct fire at very close range.

    Unfortunately, the enemy had inflicted heavy damage before the rout started. Our riflemen in the forward platoons had gone down one after the other as ‘H’ Company closed. Both their commanders, Mike Clark (Lieutenant MOW Clark MC) and Geoffrey Searles (Lieutenant Geoff Searles, who was an American commissioned into the British Army) were casualties. Mike lay there dead and Geoffrey gravely wounded in those last few yards. Before 'H' broke in to their village, they had lost over half of their number, all their company subalterns and most of their NCOs. Desmond Woods (Major AD Woods MC and bar), however, remained though his signaller died on top of him as both dived for cover. Desmond concluded his attack on the village supported by a single sergeant and a few remaining corporals.

    One of Desmond’s NCOs, Corporal Barnes (Corporal JA Barnes) took his handful of men charging through the village, perhaps unconscious of the nature of his opponents, but just at that moment unsupported. The situation was chaotic anyway with running Germans dodging everywhere and both sides firing like mad with small arms. Barnes and most of his section were shot down before he reached the SP leaving behind him a legend of desperate bravery for the Irish Rifles.

    'E' Company’s experience was little better. Both of Mervyn’s (Major DHM Davies MC) subalterns were hit at the beginning of the attack and a dozen others of his men went down as it ended. Among them were Sergeant Mayo and Corporal O’Reilly who died in the assault – both distinguished veterans and both with the Military Medal.

    Sinagoga was the heart of the defence in our sector, or so it seemed. Finally, all the long ridge of Colle Monache was in our hands, so we reined in the tanks, put out our pickets and motored slowly back to the village.

    Mayo (Sergeant EC Mayo MM) was buried where he fell by his own men of 8 Platoon. They put up a cross there with a tender message of affection scrawled on it for their sergeant..."

    Major Mervyn Davies led 'E' Company:

    "The battalion was to attack with the Lancers. Bala Bredin (Lt Col HEN Bredin DSO and bar) was on the scene. He was with the Skins and I rather think that, following Colonel Goff’s death, he gave to the LIR the orders for the attack on the next day. In any event, ‘E’ Company moved into the area, from which it was to attack Sinagoga Wood, a feature about 2000 yards ahead. We were shelled when we arrived at the starting point. Mosley (Captain N Mosley MC) was hit and so, I think, was Bruckmann (Lt J Bruckmann). Most of the night was fairly quiet save for the noise of tank tracks, which we hoped were ours and not theirs. We had a splendid breakfast prepared by CQMS O’Sullivan.

    The attack started at 0920hrs, preceded by very heavy artillery fire which began at 0900hrs. We went forward with a troop of 16/5 Lancers (and Derbyshire Yeomanry, perhaps). The initial advance was through a cornfield where the corn was quite golden and very tall and it was a shame to see tanks mow it down. On the other hand, the corn afforded useful cover to the infantry.

    Due to the noise of the artillery and tanks, we did not realise that we had come under heavy fire until we saw the odd man fall. I remember seeing Lance Sergeant Williams, a young soldier who had come from the 70th Battalion, fall at this point. We were able to approach the wood under the protection of our own artillery fire, which was very accurate. I had an air photograph and this was of the greatest help in enabling us to take advantage of the fire plan. I remember trying to communicate with the tank commander by using the telephone on the outside of his Sherman tank, but of course, the thing would not work. But the tank commander obligingly opened his turret when I hammered on it with a rifle and I showed him where I supposed some German fire was coming from.

    The company was, at this time, using what cover there was about 100-200 yards from the wood. With the ending of the barrage, I realised that the company had to go forward. I got up hoping that those around me would do so too. Every man did so, and we ran for the wood, which we reached despite about a dozen casualties. In the wood, we took 60 prisoners of the 90th (PG) Division. I walked through the wood to find ‘G’ Company on our right and who had kept up with us. In the wood, there was a small farmhouse, which I took to be Sinagoga Farm. I went in and, in a bedroom on the ground floor, there was a very old man and his wife. They were unhurt and I tried to comfort them.

    I returned to the company’s position in the wood as a dreadful Nebelwerfer stonk arrived. This killed two of the best men in the company: Sergeant Mayo MM and Corporal O’Reilly MM.

    The men of Mayo’s platoon (No 8) buried him there and then. Before we moved on the next day, they had put a cross over his grave. On the cross were the words,’ Sergeant E Mayo. The finest sergeant that ever breathed.‘ This, I saw myself........”

    Quis Separabit
    Faugh a Ballagh.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 16, 2017
  2. ropey

    ropey Member

    IWM 7806-11 aerial Sinagoga 28 April 4158.jpg

    This aerial shows the area discussed in the post.
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  3. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Thanks very much - it prompted me to hunt out the same photo that I've had hidden away for a few years (given to me by our common ally Paul H)...

    For the uninitiated:

    the white line road at the top is/was the main Cassino to Pignatoro road.

    the yellow line is the line of 2 LIR's attack on the morning of 16th May 1944 - starting from Point 86 on the main road close the service station opposite the area of the (current day) Hotel Edra,

    the yellow circle is Massa Sinagoga, which included the wooded area and building compound of Casa Sinagoga and where Sgts Mayo and O'Reilly were killed.

    best wishes

    Attached Files:

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  4. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    I have not researched the push just beyond the Gari/Rapido very much - I tend to head straight for the Hitler Line but now think that it is time to fill in that bit of the giant jigsaw.

    Would you mind emailing me a jpeg of that excellent aerial photo?

    Using your fabulous book and Richard's notes, I should be able to crack it.


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  5. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Just to the right of the LIR, of course, were 2 LF and where Fusilier Jefferson was awarded the VC on 16th May...James Barnes of 2 LIR was recommended for one by Desmond Woods but I guess the one VC/one division rule may have been a factor.

    If you're really keen here's a link to some notes that myself/my brother put together after walking it with Damiano and Marissa and Barillo in August 2012.

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  6. Richard Lewis

    Richard Lewis Member

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  7. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Many thanks - I love maps (and the map references) and with no hint of an autostrada...although the second map doesn't load for me (perhaps it's just me).

    Major Mervyn Davies, E Coy's OC, gave me a 1st Feb "Defense (sic) overprint" map covering the area across to the Gari, allows me to follow my Dad's journey from Congo bridge to Sinagoga and onto Piumarola on 15th to 17th May 1944.


    edit update: it was downloaded....
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  8. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    Didn't for me at first, it's a massive file so give it time .
    Looking at it now.
  9. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    IMG_0748.JPG Lt Michael Clark and L/Sgt William Donaldson also fell near Sinagoga 73 yeas ago today - on 16th May 1944...Quis Separabit.

    Attached Files:

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  10. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery

    Service No:
    Date of Death:
    Royal Ulster Rifles
    2nd Bn. The London Irish Rifles
    M C
    Grave Reference:
    XI. H. 17.
    Additional Information:
    Son of Thomas John Chown Clark and Catherine Clark, of Northend, Turville, Buckinghamshire. B.A. Hons. (Cantab.) Christ's College.

    The roll of honour for Turville is inscribed on the window and stonework behind the altar: WW1 Frederick Atkins, Robert Ayres, Rupert George Bartlett, Charles Owen Bristow, John Busby, Walter Langton, Frederick Richardson, John Simmons, Edward Trendall. WW2 Richard Henry Hazell, Michael Owen Wynne Clark. Parish records list 69 others from the parish who served in WW1 in 22 different branches of the services.
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  11. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Brill. I've stopped at Turville a number of times over the years. In 1966, my Dad took his scout troop to nearby Hambledon for 2 weeks and I joined them for a week (I didn't like the open latrines much). I wouldn't think that my father knew that one of his comrades from Italy was commemorated so close by.

    Edit update: And Turville was where "Went The Day Well" was filmed...

    Edit Edit Update: Mike Clark was actually killed on 16th May (not the previous day as the CWGC suggest). This is evidenced by the war diaries. His death was reported at 1400 hrs "at the same time" as L/Sgt Donaldson, both were in H Company along with Jimmy Barnes.

    Last edited: May 16, 2017
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  12. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


    I was in Sinagoga last week.

  13. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member



    Hopefully you took the chance to say hello to Franco and Clara - aka Signor e Signora Sinagoga.

    best wishes
    Last edited: May 24, 2017
  14. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member

    No but I will in August when I am there with Scottish & North Irish Yeomanry looking at the role of 2 Lothians.


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