Sept. 7 & 8, 1943

Sept. 7: Start again before dawn, through rugged beautiful country. Many more road blocks – people enthusiastic, really overjoyed to see us. Two bridges, side by side, on the east coast – one R.R. And one road, both blown. We manage to get across on the R.R. Bridge, and we billeted just at the end of it now. Ahead 1/4 miles – a big bridge is blown (they were blown yesterday) just outside of Bovalino. The infantry have pushed forward. We move in the morning. Lots of Italian prisoners coming but no resistance, but we believe we are making contact with the Germans.

Reggio, 3 September 1943 (Operation Baytown): A Sherman tank moves inland at Reggio at 9.30am. © IWM (NA 6209)

Reggio, 3 September 1943 (Operation Baytown): A Sherman tank moves inland at Reggio at 9.30am.
© IWM (NA 6209)

Sept. 8: Enter Bovalino Marina and organize the civilian medical work. Go into hills and bring back civilian doctors to look after the civilians who have been wounded. Attend a bunch of them myself, then follow the column to Locri where I requisition a hospital and open it with two Italian Red Cross prisoners – send back for 3 ton lorry and 15 cwt medical truck – then go forward with column again. Called to head of column to attend a wounded man, hit by our own aircraft – then enter Monasterace di Marina ahead of Recce and receive the surrender of a whole Field Ambulance. Seize medical stores which are in the process of being removed – then organize another medical center with three Italian medical officers. I move Bert and Jim and Ralph up to Stazione Caulonia, as intermediate point. Recce get caught in German fire and Tanks go into action. Stay in Monasterace at night then back to Caulonia and Locri to look after my hospital and take more casualties back.

Italian officers with (?) Armistice this morning, great celebrations. Roads crowded with Italian prisoners.

We have moved north on coastline another eight miles between St. Catherine Ionia and Marina de Badolato. Enemy encountered and patrol now in hills approaching Badolato (sic) – expect to go into action any minute. Submarine just passed along the coast – we think it was American. Quite a bit of firing firing today – one engineer blown up in front of my jeep. Moved forward R.A.P with Bert, Jim and Ralph to Marina Badolato.

From Doc Alexander’s extended account of the Sicilian and Italian campaigns:

On Sept 7/43 – at dawn we start again and travel through very beautiful country, still skirting the Mediterranean, but more and more we run into road blocs erected by the Germans, who apparently are falling back. The people swarm to the roads as we pass, and shout and clap and give us a grand welcome. At last we arrive at a spot were the road and railroad running parallel cross a wide river or “Torrenti.” It is no dry, but in the winter will be a raging torrent. Both the road bridge and the railroad bridge have been blown by Jerry and we are held up. I drive the Col forward in my jeep while a conference is held with Col. Fred Adams, CO of the Recces.

Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): By 16 September, the Allies, having rushed in reinforcements, had survived the crisis and the Germans had been ordered to withdraw to the Volturno River. The Allies were able to break out of the Salerno beachhead, link up with the Eighth Army advancing from Reggio and move towards Naples. A column of Sherman tanks waits to move forward near Cava. © IWM (NA 7158)

Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): By 16 September, the Allies, having rushed in reinforcements, had survived the crisis and the Germans had been ordered to withdraw to the Volturno River. The Allies were able to break out of the Salerno beachhead, link up with the Eighth Army advancing from Reggio and move towards Naples. A column of Sherman tanks waits to move forward near Cava.
© IWM (NA 7158)

It is decided that we should attempt to get the Tanks and other vehicles across the railroad bridge, as to clear the river bed of mines is a very big job and would hold the column up for a considerable time. The bridge scissors Tank is brought up the railroad and lays its bridge over the broken span and the column passes over. The railroad bed at the far end of the bridge is a great deal higher than the main road, and in order for the vehicles to regain the road, they must come down a very steep bank. Once down, no vehicle can again climb the bank, so that when our column is over – nothing can return. I realize this and at once send my D.R back to Reggio to bring forward my 15cwt and 30cwt and establish and advanced dressing station at the bridge and I organize a stretcher bearer party to carry patients from the one side of the river to the other if the necessity arises.

In the meantime, about one mile further on, two more bridges, side by side are blown. This time it is impossible to cross either, so a road must be swept through the mine field in the river bed. As it is getting late in the afternoon it is decided to spend the night there and send the Recce foward through the little town of Bovalino about two miles ahead. During the night a D.R. Returns from Bovalino to inform us that one of our men has been wounded and is lying town. He had gone forward on recce and had run into a German booby trap when trying to remove an obstruction. Alvin and I went forward in the jeep through the mine field into the Town, attended to the man and left there until morning when we would return and evacuate him down the hill.
On the way back we got off the track in the mine field and were rather uncomfortable for a few minutes.

Humber light reconnaissance cars of 56th Recce Regiment in Argenta, 18th April 1945. © IWM (NA 24311)

Humber light reconnaissance cars of 56th Recce Regiment in Argenta, 18th April 1945.
© IWM (NA 24311)

The following morning we had three casualties in our ambulance – our ADS had not arrived yet, but we wanted to get these casualties back, so had a tank draw us back onto the railroad and we then sent the ambulance all the way back with them to Reggio. Slim, Chief and I went forward and entered Bovalino, a good sized town, crowded with people. I found a riot had occurred there the day before and Italian police had fired on and wounded many people. I went to work fixing them up, but found so many I could not stay away from our own troops long enough to attend to them all, nor could I afford the necessary medical supplies even though I had stolen a good many in Reggio.

I entered a drug store, requesting a quantity of dressing, for which I signed solemnly, knowing full well that my signature meant nothing. The druggist probably knows it now too. I was joined by a Sgt of the Recce, a grand chap and wonderful thief – we teamed up well together. He offered to help me until I finished in the Town, so I gladly accepted his help. We picked up a young American Italian who spoke perfectly in both languages – so we took him to the Chief of Police to find our where all their civilians doctors were. He told us they were up in the hills, so we went out and rounded them up and forced them to come back and look after their own people. We then tore down the road after the column and discovered them in Locri. At about the same time as we entered Locri, my Sgt. D.R who I had sent back for my section, arrived and reported they had reached the bridge. I sent him straight back to bring them all forward, and told him I would have a hospital for them to open, and full instructions would be waiting for them there.

He started back. I met some Italian Red Cross prisoners, so I caught two, and with my medical orderly and my two Italians, I opened a hospital. A lovely private hospital had been closed but I opened it up, left directions for all and went to a general meeting of Officers in the Town Hall. Was very happy when they said they thought perhaps I should look around for a building to requisition for a hospital – to inform them that I already had one open and running. Shortly after this we again advanced down a beautiful stretch of road.

Our own planes fly over and mistake us for Germans and straffe us. I get called to the Recce up in front to attend to a casualty. Arrive in the jeep, attend to him and sent him back to Locri, While I remain with troops with my pack.

Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): Supermarine Spitfires manned by American pilots lined up ready for action on an airfield near Salerno littered with the wreckage of enemy aircraft and aircraft parts. The enemy aircraft were destroyed in Allied bombing attacks on the airfield. © IWM (CNA 1700)

Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): Supermarine Spitfires manned by American pilots lined up ready for action on an airfield near Salerno littered with the wreckage of enemy aircraft and aircraft parts. The enemy aircraft were destroyed in Allied bombing attacks on the airfield.
© IWM (CNA 1700)

An Italian soldier informs us that a medical unit is pulling out of Monasterace di Marina, about five miles ahead, so my friend the Sgt and I jump in a truck and go ahead of our column to the Town to stop them. I capture some marvelous medical supplies, and to our surprise, a body of Italian soldiers march up. We both look to see where our troops are, but they aren’t that far ahead, so I pull the most colossal bluff of my life. I ask the Medical Officer who they are, and when he tells me they are his Ambulance Unit (we both talk in broken French), I tell him to halt the men and bring the officers over to his little office. I then have the soldiers unload their supplies onto my truck, and accept the surrender of the entire Unit and we both stand and solemnly watch them until the Recce arrive to take charge of them.

Neither of us will ever live that down. The Recce thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen – so did we afterwards – but for a few minutes it wasn’t so good. When it was all over the Sgt turned to me and said “you lucky bugger.” I then established a forward medical post manned by captured Italian Medical Officers and waited for the Column to arrive and harbour for the night. We then went with our jeep back to Locri to see how they were doing and to look after any casualties there. They had all arrived and our hospital was in full swing, so as my forward post was twenty five miles in advance of that, I decided to set up a relay station half way between.

Slim, Chief, and I started back to Monasterace and directed Jim, Ralph and Bert to follow in a little while in their 15cwt, that I would spot a place and leave a flag where I wanted them to establish a station. They would also have with them a light ambulance. We found a railway station “Stazione Caulonia” about mid-way between the towns, and there they established their Relay Post. We proceeded to Monasterace, just as the Recce got caught by machine gun fire and the forward tanks go into action. Two causalities are evacuated to Stazione Caulonia for further evaluation, then we settle down in Monasterace for the night. In the morning, I take back a load of casualties to Stazione and with my Italian Medical Officer proceed to Locri to look after our patients.

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About Rob Alexander

I am a writer, photographer and historian and the author of The History of Canmore, published by Summerthought Publishing of Banff, AB.

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