The invasion of southern Italy continued steadily but slowly. Along the Adriatic coast it was particularly slow, because the Germans were blowing up every bridge, culvert, and road, and as there was a bridge almost every half-mile along the only main road of the coast the German plan to delay the Eighth Army worked only too well. To prevent further delay and to expedite the invasion it was decided to land a force at Termoli, farther up the coast, and thus force the Germans to give ground in the south. The Irish Brigade took part in this move, and when they sailed from Barletta on the morning of October 5 everyone looked forward to a pleasant sea cruise with maybe a few quiet days at Termoli. But those days were not so quiet, for the reason that Termoli was well garrisoned by the Hun.
LANDING UNDER FIRE
When the craft carrying the brigade arrived off Termoli harbour at 2230 hours on October 5, they were shelled from the shore. The gun-fire had more of a nuisance value than being an accurate bombardment. Commandos carried out the initial assault, followed by 36 Brigade, and then after a day or two the three Irish battalions landed.
The Commandos and 36 Brigade had been strongly counterattacked by tanks and infantry and the invaders could make no progress beyond the town. The London Irish were ordered to capture a cemetery and a small hill about three-quarters of a mile from Termoli. H and E Companies carried out the attacks and both objectives were taken after a spirited fight, in which Major Bill Westcott, commanding H Company, was wounded.
Operating with the 78th Division at this stage was the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade, and a troop of the Three Rivers Regiment was attached to the battalion. They were absolutely first-class in every attack, and there was not a building, haystack, or suspicious piece of ground that did not receive their whole-hearted attention whenever an opportunity came.
The rest of the Irish Brigade made progress on the left, and then for twelve days they all remained outside Termoli while plans were made to widen the bridgehead.
There was intense patrol activity, which gradually reached Petacciato, eight miles from Termoli, while engineer parties removed the mines which the enemy had laid in the vicinity. Much useful information about the enemy and the surrounding country was obtained by the patrols. One, a battle patrol led by Lieutenant Douglas Seymour, killed a couple of suspicious-looking “civilians” who were found to be Huns in disguise and belonging to the 1/64 Panzer Grenadiers whom the battalion had met earlier in Sicily.
Sergeant H Donaghy, MM, and his patrol ambushed an enemy truck as it was returning to the German lines after delivering supplies to the forward troops. They fired heavily on the vehicle, wounding one of its occupants, but did not manage to stop it.
Petacciato, a small village on the top of rising ground on the north side of the River Sinacra, had to be taken to provide a jumping-off ground for the next major assault – the crossing of the River Trigno. A battalion attack on a two-company front was planned, F Company on the right and G Company on the left, with E Company protecting the forming-up position and H Company in reserve. A squadron of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment was in support. At 0100 hours on the 19th a barrage opened and the attack began. F Company pushed forward; the leading platoon with Major Gibbs, brushing aside all opposition, arrived in the town five minutes after the barrage had lifted. They found the enemy still recovering from the effects of the bombardment, with most of them hiding in the houses and other buildings. They had “gone to ground.” Among them were the gun-crews of the seventy-five’s guarding the roads into the town, but most of the enemy managed to escape, as the task of systematically clearing each building was a slow one.
Later, Lieutenant O’Connor, with the leading platoon of G Company, advanced to the southern end of the village, clearing a few machine-gun posts on the way, and by dawn the rest of G Company, who had been held up by enfilade fire, succeeded in occupying the southern half. F Company also moved up during the early hours, and Petacciato fell. The battalion suffered no casualties in the actual attack, and nineteen prisoners were taken.