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Primosole Bridge Sicily 1943

Discussion in 'Italy' started by Verrieres, Nov 15, 2008.

  1. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi,
    I`ve been searching the Forums to see if this battle has been mentioned in any depth I cannot find it anywhere so I hope I`m on safe ground to give anyone interested an insight.I`ll put an official version here but I have a few more personal stories Gallantry Information and a few related photographs if theres the interest,if you want more let me know;-

    PRIMOSOLE BRIDGE
    During the night of the 13 July, 1943 part of the 1st Parachute Brigade was dropped in the area of the Primosole Bridge which stretches across the River Lentini in Sicily. It removed the demolition charges placed there, however, many of the troops had been dropped wide of the target and consequently only a small force was available to hold the bridge against repeated German attempts to recapture it. It was, therefore, essential for troops of the 50th Division to reach the Bridge sometime during the 14th or at latest by nightfall As 69 Brigade had so far borne the brunt of such fighting as there had been during the advance, 151 Brigade now took over from them. The three Durham Battalions set out on a forced march of some 25 miles, the 9th Battalion DLI leading, followed by the 8thDLI and then the 6thDLI. By afternoon the 9thDLI Battalion was well over half way and by dusk, together with 4 Armoured Brigade, it was within a mile of the bridge.
    The paratroopers had bad news to relate. All day they had fought back repeated counter-attacks with success, but at about 7.30 pm, just two hours before the arrival of the 9th Battalion, lack of ammunition had forced their sadly depleted force to withdraw in the face of another counter-attack. With demolition charges removed, of course, the bridge could not be blown and the paratroopers were near enough to prevent the enemy planting any more. But the Battalions of the 151 Brigade were too tired after their forced march to fight a battle that night and the Brigadier decided to postpone any such attack until the following morning. It was not the Italians with whom they would have to deal but Germans of the 3rd Parachute Regiment, most of whom were veterans of the Crete and Russian campaigns and all of whom had been flown from the Italian mainland only a short while before. The country round about the Primosole Bridge is flat and open. The road running north from Lentini runs along the ridge and from about 1,000 yards south of the bridge a good view is obtainable not only of the bridge itself but also of
    the country beyond it. The bridge was four hundred feet long with a superstructure of iron girders about eight feet above a sluggish reed-bordered river. North of the bridge were two small farms, one each side of the road, each consisting or two or three buildings and a barn. The road beyond the bridge could be seen running absolutely straight, between two lines of poplars, towards Catania. North of the river are thick vineyards, dotted with olive groves, to a depth of some four hundred yards; beyond them lies open country. Nothing, however, could be seen of the enemy positions nor of a sunken road some few hundred yards north of the river; indeed such cover as there was lay all on the enemy side of the bridge for the British side was completely flat and open. Both the 8th and 9th Battalions tried to snatch a few hours rest during the night. The 6th Battalion was still some way behind, after clearing un at Solarino, and did not arrive until later on the 15th. But at 4 a.m. the 9th was attacked by some Italian Armoured cars which penetrated as far as Battalion Headquarters before being halted. The Battalion antirank gunners quickly came into action and soon put an end to this desperate Italian bid from which there were fewenemy survivors.
    Sharp at 7.30 a.m. the 9th Battalion attacked as planned, supported by the fire of two Field Regiments. But the companies advancing over open ground were heavily machine-gunned before they reached the river bank and lost a number of men. Only a few platoons were able to cross the river and where they did so, ran into heavy resistance from Germans concealed in the vineyards and lining the sunken road which hitherto no one knew existed. Many were drowned in the river as they crossed. After fierce hand-to-hand fighting the Battalion's precarious hold north of the river was finally broken and those men who had gone across were driven back, leaving their dead and wounded behind them.
    After this first encounter it was clear to the Brigadier that the bridge was a tougher nut to crack than had been hoped. Although a further attack by the 6th Battalion was planned for later in the day news had been received from Corps Headquarters that there was no immediate urgency for the capture of the bridge provided that a proper footing was secured on the far side by the 16 July. Another daylight attack would be suicidal; so the 8th Battalion's attack was postponed and timed to take place by the light of the moon at two o'clock the next morning.
    The Battalion was fortunate in having the help of Lieutenant-Colonel Alastair Pearson - CO of the Parachute Regiment - in the operation. The information he provided was invaluable, and he offered to lead the attacking companies over the river at a crossing place he knew of, some hundred yards upstream from the bridge. Two companies were to cross here, then move back towards the bridge and when once they had captured it, the rest of the Battalion was to cross over it.
    For an hour and twenty minutes before Colonel Pearson guided "A" and "D" Companies across the river the guns put down concentrations upstream of the bridge and a squadron of tanks and a platoon of machine-guns joined in the overture. For the last ten minutes every gun was concentrated on the area of the bridge. Then at 2.10 a.m. the two companies waded the river at two points fifty yards apart. Once across, the thickly planted vineyards made movement difficult - it would have been difficult enough by daylight - and platoons had to shout their numbers to maintain contact. However, the unexpected form of attack took the Germans by surprise and when the companies reached the bridge only a few of them were encountered. So far so good, wrote David Rissik in his book "'The DLI at War". Both companies established themselves across the Catania road, though "A" Company had to run the gauntlet of Spandau machine-gun fire to get there; and once in position visibility was limited to only a few yards due to the thickness of the vines, shrubs and tall grass for it was the middle of the growing season. Constant vigilance was needed to keep the Germans at bay.
    Now it was the turn of the rest of the Battalion to cross the bridge. Colonel Lidwill, who was with the leadingcompanies, had arranged a number of alternative signals for bringing up the Battalion; but when he got back to the bridge every one of them broke down. The mortar flares had got separated from the mortars; the wireless sets had got "drowned" during the crossing, and an R .E. Carrier with a wireless received a direct hit as it reached the bridge. Just at the critical moment, however, a War Office observer turned up at the bridge riding a bicycle. It was rather like a fairy tale but the C.O. dispatched him back to the Battalion to tell it to come forward at once.
    Night fell and the Brigade prepared to deliver the coup de grace. Ibis was the task of the 6th and 9th Battalions who, shortly after l.30 am, forded the river upstream from the bridge area where the 8th had crossed the night before. They had little difficulty in crossing; but once on the far bank they encountered savage resistance from the German paratrooper who stood and fought it out until they either shot down their assailants or were shot down themselves. Movement was not easy through the vineyards and companies got split up in the thick undergrowth. As they fought their way forward in the moonlight they cleared up opposition in their path but inevitably left pockets of resistance on their flanks. "B" Company of the 6th Battalion, under Captain Reggie Atkinson, had just such an experience. Once in the vineyards it met intense automatic fire from the Germans in the sunken road and cleared tie Germans from it. Then they struggled on, using bayonets and grenades, to a position beyond it on the left of the Catania road. There, approximately one platoon strong and entrenched in a shallow ditch and a large shell crater, Reggie Atkinson and the remnants of his company were able to engage any Germans tying to advance up the road to reinforce the bridgehead and, what is more, to prevent any in the bridgehead from withdrawing from it. At dawn the Germans managed to infiltrate back into the sunken road and for a time they made things difficult for the Company; but for three and a half hours the enemy were kept at bay and finally driven back. This gallant action very materially influenced the course of the battle.
    "A" Company of the 9th Battalion was less fortunate. It started out only two platoons strong and almost at once came under heavy fire. The advance was not made any easier by loose telephone and barbed wire lying among the vines; but the Company pushed on towards the main road and captured a machine-gun post and took three prisoners; by which time the Company Commander, Captain Hudson, found he had only fifteen men left. Heavy fire was then opened on this small party from their rear. So they began to withdraw towards the main road. As it got lighter, fire was opened on them from the road itself, but Hudson, recognising the Commander of another Company advancing on the far side of the road, managed to attract his attention and signal to him to attack the post on the road.
    This they both did but were halted by very heavy fire. Hudson then found himself both short of ammunition and with only seven unwounded men left so he ordered them to make their way back to the Battalion as best they could. He himself was wounded and was soon afterwards taken prisoner. At about 6 a.m. the Germans counter-attacked with tanks, but the attack was broken up by shell-fire; and shortly afterwards both the 6th and 9th Battalions reported they were well beyond the bridge, At 7 a.m. some Sherman tanks crossed into the bridgehead and broke through the grapevines shooting at everything in sight. The effect of this added support was felt at once. The sunken road was quieter than for 24 hours and gradually white handkerchiefs began to appear in increasing numbers along the length of it. The Germans had had enough. By mid-day all resistance had ceased; over 150 Germans had surrendered; and their dead on the ground numbered over three hundred. The area around the bridge was a regular hell's kitchen; it was littered with smashed rifles and automatics, torn pieces of equipment, bloodstained clothing, overturned ammunition boxes and the bodies of British and German dead. It was a scene of terrible destruction and telling evidence of a bitter struggle in which neither side had asked or given quarter. There can have been few better German troops in Sicily than those who held the bridge. They were Nazi zealots to a man, but they fought superbly well and as their Battalion Commander was led away to captivity, Colonel Clarke of the 9th Battalion quietly shook him by the hand.
    Apart from the British paratroopers the brunt of the fighting had fallen on the 8th Battalion who owed much to the conspicuous leadership of their C.O., Colonel Lidwill, and to the countless deeds of individual heroism that occurred over the period of the battle. But when at the end of the fighting the three DLI Battalions counted their casualties they had lost between them five hundred killed, wounded and missing.
    Six regiments were awarded the Honour which the Durhams, Parachute Regiment and the London Scottish elected to
    carry.
    Regards
    Verrieres
     
  2. GPRegt

    GPRegt Senior Member

    It's interesting that this official version makes no mention of members of the GPR's Independent Sdn who formed part of the Bridge defence force and helped work both British and German guns. The former had been delivered by glider.

    Steve W.
     
  3. AndyBaldEagle

    AndyBaldEagle Very Senior Member

    Verrieres

    Have you had a look at PegasusArchive.com, the webmaster Mark Hickman has started on the Sicily/Italian campaigns I think. He may have some material or be interested in what you have

    Very good website!

    Andy
     
  4. airborne medic

    airborne medic Very Senior Member

    Has been covered in several books - some better than others......if interested I'd look for Without Tradition, Silken Canopy and A Drop too Many......I think Mr Whiting did a book on this operation but I don't think it is too good.....
     
  5. Ivan1

    Ivan1 "Take this!!!"

    If you mean Charles Whiting, then let me add that his books are good just for read, because of the style in which they're written, but most of them are full of inaccuracies. :)
     
    James S likes this.
  6. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi,
    Thanks for the comments and links the official version of events was taken from the infantry point of view,DLI,to be exact I apologise for any units not mentioned as I am sure there are many with each particular unit focusing on their role in the engagement.Please feel free to add their roles to the story and together we may get a better picture overall.In the mean time I`ll add a little background information something which in hindsight I should have put in first as the DLI were not first into action.This hopefully will clarify things a little;

    For the British paratroopers, the assault on the Primosole Bridge foreshadowed the later disaster at Arnhem. For the German Fallschirmjager, it was a perfect example of what the capability to react, swiftness, boldness and good luck could accomplish. The bridge was a key objective in Montgomery’s race to Messina and the plan was to seize it using elements of 1st British Parachute Brigade, which were to be relieved by 50th British Infantry Division advancing from the south. The British airborne troops were scattered and were immediately attacked by the elements of the Fallschirmjager who had landed only hours before
    Other Reg History Snippets
    At 9 o'clock a persistent stranger on the brigade forward control was spoken to by Brigadier Currie and turned out to be the Headquarters of the Brigade of 1st Airborne Division, who were to have been dropped during the night to capture Primosole bridge, south of Catania. We had heard that they had been dropped in the wrong place, but their brigade HQ an a handful of men held the bridge. Spasmodic conversations with them continued for an hour, after which we heard no more.
    Meanwhile the fight for Carlentini was going slowly: the Sharpshooters were having great difficulty with the going and progress was slow without the support of infantry or artillery, the latter being provided later by the voluntary help of 24th Field Regiment. Eventually they joined hands with troops of 50th Division. As there was only one road and that a very bad one, it was decided to pass 44th Royal Tanks through, the Sharpshooters having run short of ammunition. This took a long time as tanks were continually shedding tracks on the rocky hairpin bends. In addition the move entailed over-taking troops and transport of 50th Division in the tortuous streets of Carlentini and Lentini.
    Eventually 44th Royal Tanks caught up with the leading troops of 69 Brigade: they were opposed by two German tanks and had met several small parties of our own airborne troops, none of whom however knew anything about Primosole bridge. One squadron of the 44th Royal Tanks was placed in support of 151 Brigade, but for various reasons the attack on the bridge was postponed until the following morning. The attack was launched early in the morning of the 15th supported by 44th Royal Tanks, while the Sharpshooters protected the left flank.
    Owing to mines and vehicles blocking the road, tanks could not cross the bridge: 151 Brigade had succeeded in making a very narrow bridgehead but were later withdrawn. Before dawn on the 16th a further attack was made: 8 DLI secured a bridgehead just large enough to allow the sappers to clear the mines and obstructions, which they did in time to let a squadron of the 44th Royal Tanks pass over at first light. Unfortunately the bridgehead was under accurate anti-tank fire and four tanks were knocked out, the CO and 3 other officers being killed. During the day the Royals had engaged many small parties of enemy on the bridges between the left of 50th Division and the right of 30 Corps, the Sharpshooters being concentrated in reserve. A further attack in the bridgehead area had been put in by 6 and 9 DLI during the night 16/17th. At first light the Sharpshooters, relieving 44th Royal Tanks with 151 Brigade, passed over the bridge. The bridgehead area continued to be most un-healt! hy, until the source of trouble, a strong point about 300 yards north-west of the bridge, was finally located and cleared by the Sharpshooters. Before that was done the Sharpshooters had lost their CO and 5 tank commanders from sniping. The battle for the bridge was now over and the Sharpshooters supported the extension of the bridgehead, being relieved by the 44th Royal Tanks on the 18th. During the day they had one sharp battle, assisting 1st Royal Berks who had been surrounded, and lost five tanks in doing so. On the 19th 13 Brigade of 5 Division passed through, supported by B Squadron of the 44th Royal Tanks, directed on Misterbianco. Little progress was made in the face of stiff opposition, a further five tanks being knocked out or damaged. On the 20th the Sharpshooters supported an attack by 5th Division to cross the River Simeto. For the rest of the month the brigade was in reserve. Of the 95 tanks with which we had landed, 25 had been knocked out. On July 22nd our tank! strength was 67: it had never fallen below 55 in spite of practically no respite from movement or action, a great feat by the fitters.
    Of the 1,900 members of the British Parachute Brigade who were despatched to Sicily, only about 200 men and three anti-tank guns reached the Primasole Bridge and seized it. They promptly removed the German demolition charges and set up a perimeter defence, but they constituted a pitifully small force to hold out until the ground forces arrived overland.
    By coincidence, the bridge was near the Catania airfield where the regiment of the German 1st Parachute Division - the first contingent of the division to arrive in Sicily - had dropped a few hours earlier as Kesselring had watched. The German paratroopers reacted savagely to the intrusion of the British Paratroopers, and a fierce battle that started at daylight of 14th July lasted all day.

    Regards
    Verrieres
     
  7. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi
    For any one wanting a more detailed Airborne version then thanks to Andy please follow the link below
    Overview
    Regards
    Verrieres
     
  8. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi,
    Heres a look at the DLI positions at Primosole in 1943.
    Theres a few DLI pictures added in relation to the Bridge and the restoration of The Regiments Memorial.

    Regards
    Verrieres
     

    Attached Files:

  9. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi,
    For anyone interested in gallantry awards to the DLI for this period
    The Durham Light Infantry had a quite astounding record in Sicily including the action at Primosole Bridge. No less than twenty-one medals for gallantry:
    4 Military Crosses, one a Bar
    1 Distinguished Conduct Medal
    16 Military Medals.
    The recipients, as listed, were:
    SUPPLEMENT TO The London Gazette
    Of TUESDAY, the 19th of OCTOBER, 1943
    Published by Authority
    War Office, 21st October 1943.
    The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Sicily:
    BAR TO THE MILITARY CROSS:-.
    Lieutenant William James Hedley Muir, M.C. (203140), The Durham Light Infantry (South Shields).
    THE MILITARY CROSS:-
    Lieutenant (temporary Captain) Christopher Lowery Beattie (75176), The Durham Light Infantry (Timperley, Cheshire).
    Lieutenant (temporary Captain) John Angus Leybourne (73424). The Durham Light Infantry (Springwell, Co. Durham).
    Lieutenant (temporary Captain) Dennis Arthur Neale (130505), The Durham Light Infantry (Oswestry, Shropshire).
    THE DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL:-
    No. 4455800 Sergeant (acting Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant-Major) Frederick. Thompson, The Durham Light Infantry (Newcastle-on-Tyne) (since killed in action).
    THE MILITARY MEDAL:-
    No. 4451703 Colour-Sergeant (acting Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant-Major) Selby Wardle, The Durham Light Infantry (Chester-le-Street) (since died of wounds).
    No. 3191164 Sergeant (acting Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant-Ma jor) John Ritchie Hannah, The Durham Light Infantry (Eastriggs, Dumfriesshire).
    No. 3967322 Corporal (acting Sergeant) Charles Joseph William Mackmin, The Durham Light Infantry (Enfield).
    No. 4461364 Corporal (acting Sergeant) Frederick Mitchinson, The Durham Light Infantry (Cramlington, Northumberland).
    No. 3658132 Lance-Sergeant Charles Richard Critchley, The Durham Light Infantry (Liverpool).
    No. 4039943 Lance-Sergeant Patrick Daly, The Durham Light Infantry (Limerick, Eire).
    No. 3955493 Lance-Sergeant David John Richards, The Durham Light Infantry (Swansea).
    No. 4458341 Corporal John Dowling, The Durham Light Infantry (attd. Special Service Troops)
    (Liverpool).
    No. 3970084 Corporal William Donald Scriven, The Durham Light Infantry (Gloucester).
    No. 5677650 Lance-Corporal Stanley Seymore Rose, The Durham Light Infantry (Stunninster Newton,
    Dorset).
    No. 4461144 Lance-Corporal George Frederick Shepherd, The Durham Light Infantry (Bradford).
    No. 4454467 Lance-Corporal Frederick Herbert Spink, The Durham Light Infantry (Sherburn, Durham).
    No. 4459865 Lance-Corporal George Worthington, The Durham Light Infantry (Hyde, Cheshire).
    No. 4036125 Private Reginald George Goodwin, The Durham Light Infantry (Hereford).
    No. 4453511 Private Richard Robinson, The Durham Light Infantry (Sunderland).
    No. 4464458 Private Douglas Harry Saban, The Durham Light Infantry (London, E.17).

    Regards
    Verrieres
     
  10. Owen

    Owen -- --- -.. MOD

    I like threads like this, cheers.
     
  11. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi,
    If anyone is interested I`ll post a few of the individuals citation details.I have CSM Freddie Thompsons DCM details and L/Cpl Stan Roses Military Medal details buried here somewhere possibly some others from 6&8 DLI which I can dig up.
    Regards
    Verrieres
     
  12. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Lance Cpl Stanley Seymour Rose 9DLI Immediate Military Medal

    One the night of the 14/15th July 1943 whilst the battalion was resting preparatory to making a dawn attack on the Primosole Bridge near Catania,seven Italian armoured cars suceeded under the cover of darkness,in penetrating to Bn HQ area.Here one 6pdr anti tank gun of which L/Cpl Rose was the layer,was sited in an open position on the side of the road.In great danger of being hit by the enemy Oerlikon guns who were firing in every direction.L/Cpl Rose held his fire until the nearest armoured car was only 30yds off.With his first shot he knocked it out.Then he was wounded.In great pain he continued to fire his gun until a second armoured car was destroyed andthe remaining ones routed.L/Cpl Rose had shown exceptional coolness and bravery in the most difficult circumstances.It was due to the sucessful handling of his gun that the enemy force was beaten off before they could inflict real danger to the Battalion

    Does anyone else draw similarities to the action in which Adam Wakenshaw recieved his VC in North Africa ?

    Added another Primosole MM here;-
    L/Sgt Daley who seved with 13 Platoon `C` Company The 9th Durham light Infantry he won his MM for the actions around the Primosole Bridge and the crossing of the Simeto in Sicily. his citation reads;-

    As soon as his platoon reached the far bank enemy automatics and snipers opened up on all sides from the reeds and vineyards at very close range.Sgt Daley showed splendid leadership and great courage in the hand to hand fighting.
    Further counter attacks by the enemy forced the platoon back into the river where the water was deep.Soon three men were shouting for assistance from drowning,Sgt Daly quickly threw off his equipment and re-entered the water in the face of close aimed small arms fire on the bank and regardless of danger endeavoured to rescue the drowning men.He remained in the water for fifteen minutes and suceeded in bringing ashore two of the men under constant fire of automatic weapons.Throughout this day Sgt Daley had inspired all members of his company by his great personal valour and magnificent leadership.


    No. 4039943 Lance-Sergeant Patrick Daly, The
    Durham Light Infantry (Limerick, Eire).LG 19 October 1943

    Sgt Daley ref link;-
    http://www.ww2talk.com/forum/research-material/19413-volunteers-eire-who-have-won-distinctions.html#post195852

    Regards
    Verrieres
     
  13. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Verrieres - nit picker that I am - you mention that Primasole bridge was a key point in Mongomery's "race" to Messina - Monty , nor anyone else was aware of a race to Messina - or anywhere else for that matter.

    only US Gen.George S Patton felt there should be a race and is somehow aligned with his refusal to help Monty out with a left hook around Etna to cut off the supply route to Catania...instead he cajoled Alexander into allowing him to "liberate" Palermo- he then landed on three different beaches and was welcomed by - not the Germans - but US Gen's Bradley and Walker who wondered what he was doing - thus he was first into Messina - The Wiinner !
    Cheers
     
  14. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi,
    Yep well spotted there! I don`t suppose there was a race in them terms I think race is used to emphasize speed of advance but fair comment I`ll sack my proof reader!!
    Regards
    Verrieres
     
    Mr Jinks likes this.
  15. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi,
    Thought I`d post the Military Medal Citation/Details regarding Company Sgt Major John Ritchie Hannah 8th Durham Light Infantry initially recommended for a DCM it was changed to a Military Medal;-

    John Ritchie Hannah was Company Sergeant Major of the leading assaulting Company when the 8th Battalion DLI secured a bridgehead across the Simeto River on the night 15/16 July 1943. he led his men splendidly across the river and was one of the first men on the objective. the Company was heavily counter-attacked the next morning and was forced to withdraw. One platoon was some distance away and the sergeant major went himself to warn them to withdraw. During the withdrawal this platoon and the CSM were separated form the rest of the Company. He then withdrew his men across the river and made a detour, crossing the river again higher up where he found the rest of the Company and assisted his Company Commander in organising a new position. During the day of the 16 and 17, the Company was constantly under heavy machine-gun, mortar and shell fire, but he was always amongst his men, cheering them on and keeping them continuously supplied with ammunition and water. Throughout the two days his devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety was a magnificent example to his men and was a very vital factor in the Company maintaining the position until the enemy were forced to surrender.

    Regards
    Verrieres
     

    Attached Files:

  16. LJW

    LJW Junior Member

    Hi Verrieres,
    Would like to add one more Military Cross to your list:
    Lieutenant Daniel Anthony "Tony" ffrench-Kehoe - DLI 6th battalion for actions at Primosole Bridge on morning of 17 July 1943.
    If you like more details, I have his recommendation report.

    (I have an interest in this person through family research and found this thread while looking for more information on the battle itself).
     
  17. Bodston

    Bodston Little Willy

    I partial response to this excellent thread I was tempted to buy 'Operation Husky - The Allied Invasion of Sicily' by S.W.C. Pack when last in my local second-hand bookshop. I've not read it yet but I'll give you a few snippets. Captain Pack has interspersed the narrative with letters by the men who were there, and very good reading they make too. Here is one remarkable tale by Admiral Lord Ashbourne, relating to the disastrous landing of so many gliders in the sea.
    We were stopped in the Keren off the beaches. I saw a body floating in the sea, almost alongside and evidently alive. I told the captain of the Keren to pick him up. A few minutes later a dripping soldier arrived on the bridge. He turned out to be Major-General G.F. Hopkinson commanding 1 British Airborne Division. The last time I had seen him was in 1922 when I had rowed in the same boat as him at Cambridge (Caius College). We wrung out his clothes, gave him a plate of eggs and bacon, and then sent him off ashore to catch up the rest of his soldiers. Poor chap, he was later killed near Taranto 10 September 1943. He was a splendid man and must have been a great loss to his airborne troops.
     
  18. Bodston

    Bodston Little Willy

    Some more eyewitness accounts of the fighting around Primosole bridge, taken from 'Operation Husky' by S.W.C. Pack
    ..by 6.30am 14 July, about 120 British (airborne) troops had fought their way to the bridge and removed demolition charges, and were guarding their prize with three anti-tank guns. HMS Newfoundland gave valuable help in the matter of supporting gunfire. By the time the relieving force of 4 and 151 Brigades arrived on the scene there had been some tough fighting, with what Montgomery's Chief of Staff described as fanatical savagery.
    In 151 Brigade was Tony Pridham, a platoon commander with 8 Battalion Durham Light Infantry, who writes:

    I landed near Avola on D-day. I lasted only until the crossing of the Simento river and the Primosole bridge and was probably the first member of the Eighth Army to cross the bridge. I was later the only one to live of four who returned to the bridge in the carrier which was knocked out just on the south side of the bridge. I made contact with a tank lying near a wrecked glider just south of the bridge.

    One who took part in the unfortunate airborne attack on Primosole bridge was Major G.H. Seal, who at that time was signal sergeant of 21 Independent Parachute Company. Seal says:

    The operation was suspended for some reason for 24 hours, But on the beautiful clear evening of Friday 13 July we re-assembled. The CO 1 Parachute Battalion (Alistair Pearson, who later became Brigade Commander and won four DSOs) was wearing no badges of rank, a plain khaki shirt and dirty plimsolls. We knew that the job was on.
    At about 8.30pm we took off from Tunisia and had a quiet flight, although it seemed much longer than a direct route would have taken. Light flak was fairly regular. I remember reflecting briefly that it wasn't a bad firework display. Our American pilot was flying very low; in fact, standing in the doorway, I was disconcerted that I was able, in the gloom, to discern quite easily the individual branches of the olive trees. the terrain was dissimilar to that one expected around the dropping zone.
    As the green light came on, I went out like a bomb. My parachute opened and I hit the ground immediately on a hillside. My corporal was nearby. We never saw anything of the others in our stick.
    All around us every activity, German and Italian, was intense. If any pattern revealed itself it was probably that the former were heading seemed to be heading north, and the Italians south. My corporal not wishing to proceed, I set off walking into the darkness. It was clear that the dropping zone was not in this neighbourhood. Accordingly I destroyed my pathfinding equipment by explosive. My course was north-east, but I had many stops, always to hide.
    The operational objective for 1 Parachute Brigade was the capture of Primosole bridge, and the holding of it for 48 hours. The bridge is the entrance to the plain of Catania, and the Brigade task was to facilitate the passage of Eighth Army. Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, with a tiny force, captured the bridge and held it for many hours. I believe he performed excellently on a Bren gun. I never found the bridge.
    At first light I identified a north facing strip of the east coast and realised that the bridge was several miles to the north of my position. An Italian commando captain, with his sixty or so armed men, came up to me and pleaded with me to take them prisoner I asked him to get lost, which he did.
    Seeing what I thought to be a German patrol, I ran into a pillbox and found an undamged Italian machine gun, and trained the gun on the group. The group soon revealed itself as a British airborne collection. we occupied an adjacent farmyard and took up defensive positions. Soldiers filtered in and gradually our numbers built up. We assumed the bridge had been won or lost for we were ordered to make south, away from the scene, to Syracuse.
    The first advancing Eighth Army vehicle was driven by a sergeant whose passenger was General Montgomery. He asked me some very pertinent questions and was given some straightforward comments on aircraft navigation. He spoke in a quiet and friendly way, gave me a cigarette and passed slowly on.
    The whole affair had been thoroughly disappointing. If it had not have been postponed, and with a better navigation, the operation could have been a brilliant success.
     
  19. Verrieres

    Verrieres no longer a member

    Hi Verrieres,
    Would like to add one more Military Cross to your list:
    Lieutenant Daniel Anthony "Tony" ffrench-Kehoe - DLI 6th battalion for actions at Primosole Bridge on morning of 17 July 1943.
    If you like more details, I have his recommendation report.

    (I have an interest in this person through family research and found this thread while looking for more information on the battle itself).


    Hi
    Leah Please post away,you cannot have to much information! I believe ffrench-Kehoe was attatched to The North`n Reg at the time his MC was Published in THE SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 9 AUGUST, 1945.at the time he was Temp Captain but thats all I know anything else you may have would be of Interest. Welcome once again.
    Regards
    Verrieres
    North'n R.
    Capt. (actg.) D. A. FFRENCH-KEHOE, M.C. (189441
     
  20. LJW

    LJW Junior Member

    Hi Verrieres,
    Correct that D.A. ffrench-Kehoe was attached to Northamptonshire -
    he was 2nd Lieutenant at the time I believe and his MC was published in the Supplement to the London Gazette 18 November 1943 (gazette#36351).
    I'm a bit new to researching the military aspects and still trying to make sense of some of the things I have, acronyms etc. I'll probably be making much use of this forum as I have a few military backgrounds in my family I'm enjoying sorting out!



    Here is my transcription of the recommendation, I hope you find it of some interest (from ffrench-Kehoe's recommendation: catalogue reference WO/373/3 of the National Archives UK - crown copyright)

    "151st (Durham) Brigade. 50th (N) Division.
    Thirty Corps, Northamptons ATT 6th Bn Durham LI, W/Lieutenant
    Action for which recommended:
    On the morning of the 17th July after the Battalion had carried out an attack on PRIMOSOLE BRIDGE this Officer's Company was on its objective forward of [word looks like 'sunken'] lane, but depleted on account of heavy casualties. The whole time it was being continually sniped and all movement was most difficult. Later the sniping ceased and it was thought that all the snipers had been mopped up, so the Company Commander went to make contact with the adjoining Company. During his absence it was noticed that a party of more than 40 Parachutists some 300 yards away were advancing up the lane to attack the Company from the rear. Lieutenant ffrench-Kehoe immediately realising what was about to happen, went out to the Platoons under heavy enemy covering fire and warned and organised the small force to meet the attack. With a T.S.M.G. he himself then took up a position to meet the attack. So fierce was the fire of his force that the entire enemy force was either [word could be 'killed'] or surrendered, with Lieutenant ffrench-Kehoe himself killing five. There is no doubt that it was entirely due to this Officer's resolute courage and example that the Company so successfully dealt with what might have been a very serious situation."

    By whom recommended: W.I. Watson, Lieut-Colonel. Commanding, 6th Bn. The Durham Light Infantry.
    Awarded M.C. L6 18.11.43

    [having difficulty reading the signatures]


    A side note:
    ffrench-Kehoe relinquished command in 1948, granted rank of Captain. In 1952 he went on to write and publish the novel "And Ruffians Leap" under the pen name Desmond Carolan. The novel was a "good-humoured satire on certain aspects" of WW2. It takes place on a small island in Greece, where apparently he also served.
     
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