Sept. 17-18, 1943 Doc Alexander’s detailed account of the Italian Campaign

On Sept. 17/43 – “A” Squadron – 14th move out from harbour at 1400hrs. WE fall in our usual place behind “Alberta” tank, which Bruce Trotter rides as Commanding Officer. We are only moving forward to our rendevous with the 3rd Brigade and to get into position for the advance, which will really begin tomorrow.

We pass due north on the coast road for twenty-five miles, then swing sharply inland, past the little village of Rotondella, which is perched way high on a dome-lie hill and continue straight into the hills towards Colabraro. It is getting dusk, and we are wondering whether we will hit harbour before dark, so that we can cook our supper. Just past the road junction leading to Senise, we draw into a field and set up our stove and have just finished our supper when without warning to us, the tanks pull out and simply fly down the road with us after them, not knowing where they are going or what they are going to do.
Eventually we stop and bed down just off the road, having covered 55 miles since leaving harbour.

Shortly afterwards the Infantry arrive and we all harbour together in preparation for an early start the following morning.
In the meantime “B” Squadron, 14th are preparing to move up the coast towards Bari and expect they may have some tank warfare, so Capt. Hunter in his Carrier, his RAP and the rest of my section remain with them.

A patrol of the 2/7th Queen's Regiment enters the village of Pugliano, Italy, September 1943. © IWM (NA 6961)

A patrol of the 2/7th Queen’s Regiment enters the village of Pugliano, Italy, September 1943.
© IWM (NA 6961)

On Sept. 18 – we woke up and pack before dawn. It is very cold and we have no heavy clothing, so we wrap ourselves in Italian groundsheets and stand and shiver, while the Infantry of the West Nova Scotias load on the tanks, and we prepare to advance at dawn.

Our Recce in carriers under Sgt. Jimmy Hales have started out in front, looking for hidden machine gun nests and 88mm guns.
at 5:15 a.m. we start forward and proceed without opposition through St. Arcangelo and Missanello, through terribly heavy and hilly country covered by a great deal of bush and scrub. Visibility is poor and progress is very slow.

We had hoped to reach the village of Corleto tonight, and the recce discover the only bridge over a very deep and rough canyon is blow, past repair, so Column can’t continue.

We pull into harbour, after only advancing twenty eight miles. The recce look for a way across and the Artillery take up positions covering the detour which we must make.

The Engineers are busily engaged, digging away the banks of the canyon and moving boulders, so that we can pass down the bank under the bridge and up the bank on the other side. It is very slow work. In the meantime the recce pass forward into the town of Corleto and discover a seriously wounded German officer. It is impossible for a vehicle to get in and Slim and I with our Jeep attempt it, successfully reach the village, remove the Officer and bring him back to the Vac post of the 9th Field Amb.

The road from the bridge to the Village is terribly bombed and blown to pieces – streets of the Town are heaped high with debris, the houses are a shambles. I believe it is the worst bombed small village I have ever seen.

Hundreds of dead bodies are buried beneath the fallen stone and the familiar odor of death is over everything.

There are unexploded mines and bombs everywhere. The mine sweepers and Infantry are busy cleaning the streets so that tanks and soft skinned vehicles can pass through.

There does not seem to have been much of importance in this Town and why it should have been bombed so I cannot imagine.

Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): During 10 - 11 September, the strength of German resistance steadily increased. A counter-attack cut the 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in Battipaglia off from from the main force and required new defences to be created. A gun crew of 267 Battery, 67 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery prepare a 17 pounder Pheasant anti-tank gun for action. © IWM (NA 6685)

Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): During 10 – 11 September, the strength of German resistance steadily increased. A counter-attack cut the 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in Battipaglia off from from the main force and required new defences to be created. A gun crew of 267 Battery, 67 Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery prepare a 17 pounder Pheasant anti-tank gun for action.
© IWM (NA 6685)

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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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