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Dec. 15, 1943: Doc Alexander and The Calgary Tanks

Note: Doc Alexander is will soon return to England where he’ll be promoted to major and given command of the 6th Field Dressing Station and then, with the 6th FDS, he’ll be sent to Normandy on D-Day plus-21. For now, he’s still in Italy, convalescing in a Canadian hospital following the sharpnel wound to his ankle. As part of this project is as much about The Calgary Regiment as it is about my grandfather (even though he had been with the 2nd Field Ambulance through Italy), I’m going to keep telling both stories even though they have diverged. Even though my grandfather has been separated from his beloved Calgary Tanks, it is never far from his mind.

Doc Alexander:
X ray negative on ankle, so guess it is ligaments. Bob and Ralph are back, will be leaving for Unit tomorrow. Saw Nurse McDonald from Calgary today – we had a long talk, she will be in later.

 A casualty being loaded into a DUKW on the beach at Fossacesia, 15 December 1943. © IWM (NA 9891)


A casualty being loaded into a DUKW on the beach at Fossacesia, 15 December 1943. © IWM (NA 9891)

Meanwhile, the Canadians had taken The Gully, the what

The Calgary Tanks war diary:
Dec. 14
San Leonardo

Throughout the day, the combined A and C Squadrons remained in positions on Vino Ridge with infantry. A small scale enemy counter attack during the afternoon was repulsed with few casualties. On the B Sqn sector, the position remained unchanged. The enemy made strong bids several times during the day to throw back the force, and tanks were called forward to repel these attacks. All attempts by the enemy to take the position were repulsed, but infantry casualties were high. No tanks were used by the enemy in these attempts and the enemy infantry suffered heavily. Scattered shelling of A1 Echelon areas continued throughout the day.

Dec. 15
San Leonardo
Again, no change in the combined A and C Sqn position was reported. Tanks remained on their positions all day to give support to the infantry should it be required. Supplies on the B Sqn sector were running short due to the fact that the roads to this position were under constant shellfire, and cross country routes were impossible for the wheeled or tracked vehicles owing to the deep ravine to the rear of the position. Accordingly it was decided to bring up a mule train consisting of 40 mules. This was organized by Major F. Schmidlin, 2nd in Command Regiment, and S.S.M. C.R. H Alstead of B Sqn was entrusted with the task of getting the mules through.

Under cover of darkness, the train left the A echelon area and proceeded across country to the B Sqn area. Out of the 40 mules that started, only 18 arrived at the Sqn area which was reached at approximately 2100 hours. However these relieved the immediate shortage.

The day had been rather hectic for B Sqn, who, with supplies of ammunition running out, were called upon several times to assist in the repelling of the counter attacks by the enemy. Ammunition was shifted from tank to tank during the day, and all attempts were successfully repulsed.

Dec. 10, 1943: a shrapnel wound

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We set out in our Jeep – Sgt. Hodgkins, on motorcycle and Slim and I in the jeep – the Padre (Smith) and Fred Ware in the jeep following us. We start down the face of the crest and are subjected to mortar fire. One mortar falls in the road about 40 feet ahead but causes no trouble. We proceed up the valley – cross the detour which the Engineers have constructed and ascend the escarpment towards San Leonardo – pull off the side of the road where two Calgary Tanks have been mined.

One Ontario Tank backs up, striking a mine and seriously wounded Slim, Sgt. Hodgkins and Fred Ware and one Ontario boy. We attend them, load them on the jeep ambulance and rush them back across the valley of the Moro to the Car Post, which I have established on top of the crest, by the rest of my section. Some German prisoners are wounded by one of their own shells and one of my boys Jack Carter goes to help him and is himself wounded.

A Canadian Sherman – Adjunct of the Calgary Regiment – driven off the road north of San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy. Source.

I have been alone in regt. with only the Padre to help me. Jerry shells our line very heavily, hitting several PPCLI which we look after and evacuate. Then a most terrific barrage sets in – we jump into a ditch and I am wounded in the right ankle by shrapnel. I am able to carry on though for a while. Bruce Hunter and Bert Rutledge pull up and their RAP and we set up together.

In the evening we get called forward to San Leonardo to evacuate a wounded Seaforth. In this Town a few minutes before, the troops had been forced to evacuate due to heavy shell fire. It was perfectly quiet when we were in. On return to RAP my ankle is so painful I am forced to give in and the Padre drives me into M.D.S. #2, 2nd L.F.H. at Marino San Vito, where the tentative diagnosis is fractured Fibula and I am placed in a cast and put to bed.

Dec. 7, 1943: Moro River, “This is rather a hot spot.”

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Dec. 7 – Some English tanks get across the Moro River and in to the Town of La Torre last night. We are standing to (6:30 a.m.) expecting to go up and cross the Moro R. at St. Leonardo. I have organized a fording party which I may have to use. The weather has cleared this morning. Moved at 11 a.m. – through San Vito, a very pretty drive. From the town we could see Ortona about ten kilos apart. Crossed the bridge of a tiny stream under shell fire. One shell landed in Calgary convoy behind us. We went into harbour on a ridge about two miles from the Moro River (A remarkable live broadcast with CBC Radio of the battle). Jerry opened up on us, wounding three and tearing a few holes in my jeep. This is rather a hot spot.

A Sherman tank from Finestone's Troop of The British Columbia Dragoons crossing the Moro River, Italy, December 1943. Bernard Finestone. The Memory Project.

A Sherman tank from The British Columbia Dragoons crossing the Moro River, Italy, December 1943. Bernard Finestone. The Memory Project.

Dec. 6, 1943: Moro River

Finished second inoculation this a.m. We are on 1/2 hour notice – A and F 2nd Can Bde and 4th Armoured Bde attacking Ortonoa and bridge over Moro River. 14th being relieved by R.T.R. We go under command 1st Can. Div. – our roles is the spear head of the drive from the Ortona Road to the Pescara Rd. It seems to be settling down for a heavy rain, so this advance may become very difficult.

Dec. 4–5, 1943: Sangro River

© IWM (NA 8906)
The Sangro River November 1943: Sherman tanks of the 3rd County of London Yeomanry near Torino di Sangro prepare to move up to the River Sangro. In the foreground is a pile of 4.5 inch shells waiting to be used in the artillery barrage in support of the assault. © IWM (NA 8906)

The Sangro River November 1943: Sherman tanks of the 3rd County of London Yeomanry near Torino di Sangro prepare to move up to the River Sangro. In the foreground is a pile of 4.5 inch shells waiting to be used in the artillery barrage in support of the assault.
© IWM (NA 8906)

Dec. 4 – San Vito and Lanciano have both fallen – heavy artillery is pouring across the Sangro River in preparation for the attack on the line running from Ortona on the Adriatic to Guardiagrele. I expect after that is taken, we attack in the Chieti Pescara line – thus cutting the main lateral road to Rome.

Dec. 5 – The Sangro has flooded, washing all the bridges out – supplies are coming over in Ducks. The 14th are in action in front of Friso – helping to put the infantry over the Moro River. Inoculated “C” Squadron today. Move today at 1 p.m. – seven miles, which really took us ahead two and one half miles north. We are now about one mile north of Lanciano. Two air raids today. Fairly close, but no damage done. We have a good harbour in another olive grove and are very comfortable.

The Sangro River in Flood. Bailey Bridge Washed Away.  November 1943 (Imperial War Museum, London)

The Sangro River in Flood. Bailey Bridge Washed Away.
November 1943
(Imperial War Museum, London – source

Nov. 25–28, 1943

© IWM (CNA 2226)

Nov. 25 – Five months ago today we sailed from Scotland. One month from today is Xmas. Fine today and mud is drying somewhat. Nothing new, still running Regiment and Section. Picture show in Mess tonight – “The Sea Hawk”.

Nov. 26 – Had lunch with McIndoo at “B” Squadron today. In he morning I am speaking to and inoculating “B and C” Squadrons against Typhus. The weather is ideal today and the ground is drying up fast. Rather cold tonight. Some letters from home but I don’t where the parcels have gone. Letters are the main things though. One German plane shot down here today.

Men of the RAF Regiment assist an RAF intelligence officer to salvage important parts from a Messerschmitt Me 410 photographic reconnaissance aircraft, shot down on the banks of the Sangro River, Italy. © IWM (CNA 2226)

Men of the RAF Regiment assist an RAF intelligence officer to salvage important parts from a Messerschmitt Me 410 photographic reconnaissance aircraft, shot down on the banks of the Sangro River, Italy.
© IWM (CNA 2226)

Nov. 27 – One year ago today we moved from Seaford to Worthing. It is not the same Unit as it was then. Inoculated “B and C” Squadrons today against Typhus.

Nov. 28 – Still inoculating. Talked to Harry Williamson from Bde (Brigade headquarters) – he informs me that we will probably be starting for England in one week’s time, as the exchange personnel are in Africa and they at Bde have received information that they will be sent to Italy as soon as possible. Was also informed today that the recommendation for my majority had gone in – but I don’t get it. Bde medical meeting tomorrow afternoon at the ambulance. There may be some definite word then.

Nov. 17, 1943

Doc Alexander
 The Sangro River November 1943: An Indian soldier pushing his vehicle which is bogged down in deep mud in the Sangro area. © IWM (NA 8925)


The Sangro River November 1943: An Indian soldier pushing his vehicle which is bogged down in deep mud in the Sangro area.
© IWM (NA 8925)

Rained all night, and it is still raining this morning. Everything is a sea of mud. The hills are covered in snow. Very pretty to look at and very miserable to live in. The trucks are being hauled out by Tanks. The Tanks are loading on transports. At 6:30 p.m. the Tanks will leave. At 10:30 we will leave. It will be  a long cold trip, but we should arrive in Termoli tomorrow, but how far beyond that our harbour is – we don’t know. It is supposed to be very muddy and wet there. We fall in with Jeep and one ambulance and one D.R. (dispatch rider) at 6:30 behind the tanks on transporters. They had great difficulty climbing the first hill, so that it was eleven thirty before we actually pulled out. The reset of the section and the RMO (regimental medical officer) were in the rear of soft vehicles. We travelled sixty five miles north east through Campobasso until we came to the Adriatic Coast at Termoli – we are now in harbour about 1 mile inland, the 14th (14th Canadian Army Tank Regiment) are about six miles.