We are marking the 75th Anniversary of the actions of both the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the London Irish Rifles during the Second World War by adding month by month details of their campaigns from 1942 onwards when they arrived in Iraq and North Africa until April 1945 when the two battalions fought in close proximity to each other during the final offensive that brought final and complete victory in Northern Italy.
August to October 1942
“Men of the London Irish Rifles commenced their long journey towards front line service in August 1942 when the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) sailed from Liverpool as part of 56th (London) Infantry Division to join the PAI (Persia and Iraq) Force in protecting the oil fields of Iran and Iraq and the supply route from the Persian Gulf to the Soviet Union. They eventually arrived in Basra at the end of October 1942, and the battalion remained in Iraq until April 1943…
The 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) continued to prepare in Scotland for their part in the imminent invasion of North Africa, taking part in Operation Dryshod during August 1942, before journeying to Algeria in early November 1942…”
“By the end of November 1942, 1 LIR were based in northern Iraq as part of PAI Force within the 10th Army, and 2 LIR had started their journey east from Algiers towards the front line in Tunisia to join the rest of 6 Armoured Division within the 1st Army.
After arriving in Iraq at the end of October, 1 LIR remained near to Basra until 11th November when they travelled to Baghdad and then the next day onto Kirkuk where they remained until 1st April 1943.
2 LIR left Glasgow on 14th November aboard HMT Duchess of York, being accompanied on board by 38 (Irish) Brigade’s HQ team. 6 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (6 Innisks) travelling in the same convoy on HMT Nea Helllas. The third battalion of the Irish Brigade, 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers (1 RIrF), left Liverpool for Algiers at the end of the month…”
“During December 1942, 1 LIR continued its long period of defence duties and training in Kirkuk. At the start of the month, 2 LIR travelled from Bougie to Teboursouk in Tunisia, and immediately started patrolling in that area with other elements of 6th Armoured Division, and continued to do so for the rest of the month in the area south of Medjez-el-Bab across the Goubellat Plain and further south towards Bou Arada and El Aroussa….”
“While 1 LIR continued with its defensive duties in Northern Iraq, January 1943 saw the 2 LIR facing its first significant actions on the low lying hills north of Bou Arada in Tunisia.
On 11th January, H Company, later supported by G Company, relieved a squadron of 2 Lothian and Border Horse, which had been “bogged down” near to the Goubellat and Bou Arada road and recovered several tanks in the process, but suffered casualties of 4 killed and 12 wounded of their own. H Company was reported to have gone into action singing ‘You Are My Sunshine’….”
“The 2nd Battalion spent the early part of February 1943 in continuing patrolling activity in areas north of Bou Arada, and towards Djebel Rihane. On 26th February their positions on Stuka Ridge, to the west of the Goubellat to Bou Arada road, were attacked by a significant force.
The German assaults on 2 LIR’s positions was part of a wide frontal attack on Allied positions south of Medjez-el-Bab, and followed soon after American reverses at Kasserine in mid February. The Brigade’s position was eventually stabilised by a combination of strong defensive actions by 2 LIR and most critically by the counterattacking actions of two companies of 1 RIrF, one company of 6 Innisks, six tanks from the North Irish Horse and with closely applied artillery support…”
“At the start of March 1943, 2 LIR remained in their positions near to Stuka Ridge as the Irish Brigade continued mopping up the last vestiges of the German offensive forces in the area. By the middle of the month, the battalion was withdrawn from the line and proceeded to a rest camp, and to gain much needed reinforcements and undergo extensive battalion training. Lt-Col TPD (Pat) Scott took over command of 2 LIR on 18th March, with Major APK (Kevin) O’Connor coming in as the new second in command.
By the end of the month, 1 LIR was about to make its long awaited departure from Iraq, with the battalion travelling from Kirkuk to Baghdad, for onward transportation to Egypt…”
“In early April 1943, 1 LIR moved from Iraq to Jordan and through Palestine, and arrived at Ismalia in Egypt on 9th April. At the end of the month, it became clear that they would not join the final assaults on German positions in Tunisia, and they would later be attached to 50th Infantry Division for future action in Southern Europe.
After 2 LIR spent the first part of the month in training, they rejoined the Irish Brigade and took over positions near to Djebel Bettiour in anticipation of a 78th Division assault on a wide front in the mountains north of Medjez-el-Bab…”
“In May 1943, Allied Forces in North Africa achieved the goal for which they had been fighting for over six months, ever since the 1st Army landed in Algeria and the 8th Army’s breakthrough at El Alamein. When they entered Tunis, 2 LIR played a full part in this final act when it joined the Irish Brigade in becoming the first marching troops to enter the city on 8th May. In total, over 200,000 German and Italian troops surrendered during the month.
Twelve days later, 2 LIR joined a Victory March through the streets of Tunis with its Pipe Band in full evidence, as the Irish Brigade marched proudly in front of Generals Eisenhower, Alexander and Giraud….”
“During June 1943, the 1st Battalion moved from Gaza to Ataka, near to Suez, and continued to prepare for future operations as part of 168 Infantry Brigade’s attachment to the battle hardened 50th Infantry Division. Towards the end of the month, they were able to meet their new divisional commander, Major General Kirkman, and were addressed by 8th Army’s Commanding Officer, General Montgomery.
The 2nd Battalion spent the first part of the month in extensive reorganisation and training at Guelma in Algeria. Whilst there, they had the honour of lining the motorcade route when King George VI visited 78th Division. After moving to Hammamet, south of Tunis, they, too, were welcomed to 8th Army by General Montgomery….”
“At the start of July 1943, while the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) was continuing its renewed training exercises to the south of Tunis, the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) journeyed from Egypt to Sicily along with 168 Infantry Brigade to join up with 50th Infantry Division, and soon were in action at Fosso Bottaceto, just to the south of Catania.
168 Brigade had been designated as the 50th Division’s reserve brigade for the Sicilian campaign, arriving on the island three days after the invasion which had commenced on 9th/10th July…”
“The start of August 1943 saw the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) playing a full part in 38 (Irish) Brigade’s assaults on the strongly held German defensive lines to the west of Mt Etna in support of the 78th Infantry Division’s plan to cut all lateral road contact with Catania.
On the evening of 2nd August, 2 LIR was given responsibility for the taking of three 2000 foot high hills just to the west of German strong points in Centuripe. Their attack was timed in advance of the direct assaults of the rest of the Irish Brigade, with 6 Inniskilling Fusiliers (6 Innisks), and 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers (1 RIrF) fighting up precipitous cliffs into the village….”
“The start of September 1943 found both battalions of the London Irish Rifles at rest in Sicily after the exertions of extremely tough fighting during July and August.
The 1st Battalion spent the first eight days of the month at Fiumefreddo near to the east coast, north of Catania, but found the area prone to malaria, so they soon moved 10 miles inland to Piedimonte at 1100 feet high on the lower slopes of Etna. On 25th September 1943 to commemorate the Battle of Loos, the battalion was inspected by Lt- Col Good, who referred to the fact that it was also the 150th anniversary of the raising of the Royal Ulster (Irish) Rifles.
At the start of September, the 2nd Battalion were recuperating at Patti on the north coast of Sicily, but by the middle of the month they received orders for an imminent move to mainland Italy, and on the same day as the 1st Battalion were commemorating Loos, they arrived at the port of Taranto…”
“On the morning of 5th October 1943, the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) sailed with 38 (Irish) Brigade from Barletta to Termoli where they were met on the quayside by heavy artillery fire. Over the previous day, there had been a strong counterattack by 16th Panzer Division against the newly established beachhead, and it was only the arrival of the Irish Brigade that stabilised the situation.
The next day, the brigade attacked northwards to secure the perimeter, before consolidating their positions over the next ten days…”
“By early November 1943, the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) had moved forward to Sipicciano, a village on the northern slopes of Monte San Croce and which overlooked the valley just in front of Monte Camino and started undertaking extensive patrolling activity. The Camino massif had to be captured before any attack could be attempted on the Gustav Line which ran across the Liri Valley and through the mountain area close to Monte Cassino.
Whilst 1 LIR went into reserve, the first attack on Camino was carried out by 201 Guards Brigade and this started from the area of the battalion’s positions….”
“At the start of December 1943, the two battalions of the London Irish Rifles were in action on both the western and eastern sides of Italy. The 1st Battalion (1 LIR) joined the 5th Army’s assault on Monte Camino and the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) continued their drive along the Adriatic coast as the 8th Army gradually moved northwards towards the Moro River.
Following their successful capture of Fossacesia which contributed to the breaking of the German Winter Line, 2 LIR continued their advance and entered Rocca San Giovanni on the first day of the month, before continuing with the Faughs in an advance towards the Moro River…”
“During January 1944, while the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) continued their defensive duties in appalling conditions in the high Apennines of Central Italy, the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) joined a 5th Army wide assault across the Garigliano River which was largely intended as a diversionary assault in support of the impending landings at Anzio.
On 19th January, 1 LIR joined the 56th Division’s assault on the hill top town of Castelforte. For four days they battled determined German defences, before the division was able to securely establish the Garigliano bridgehead positions….”
“The 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) spent the early part of February 1944 at rest near to Campobasso before they were transferred, along with the rest of 38 (Irish) Brigade, to join the New Zealand Corps and started to ready themselves for a possible early further assault on German defensive positions at Monte Cassino. The battalion would ultimately not be required to support the attack by Kiwi and Indian forces, which had commenced soon after the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey on 15th February. For the remainder of the month, 2 LIR would continue to undertake training, including intensive practice at crossing rivers.
On 3rd February, the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) had landed at Anzio and were immediately moved forward into front line positions to meet the ongoing German offensive onslaught to the north of Aprilia, a town which was known as the ‘Factory’…”
“At the start of March 1944, the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) continued their defensive ordeal in the Anzio bridgehead, with their last major actions of this campaign period taking place on 2nd and 3rd March with the battalion suffering a number of casualties during further bitter fighting. During the last few days, Lieut-Colonel Baucher had taken over command of 1 LIR from the temporary command of Major Viscount Stopford. On 11th March, 1 LIR were at long last able to leave Anzio behind, but with a much depleted total strength of only just over three hundred officers and men.
On 29th March, 1 LIR left Taranto en route for 3 months of rest, re-equipping and training in Egypt – this was a much needed break for the battalion, who had been in almost constant front line action since arriving in Sicily during July 1943…”
“For the first three weeks of April 1944, the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) continued in defensive duties near to the summit of the 771 metre high Monte Castellone, where their four company positions were named Arsenal, Chelsea, Celtic and Lindfield.
A most uncomfortable period was spent here with absolutely no movement possible during daylight hours and all supplies having to be transported after dark by jeep across the Rapido Valley from San Michele before a mule train took everything up to the front line companies. The company quartermasters and muleteers did an outstanding job even sometimes being able to provide freshly baked cakes…”
“In May 1944, the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) took part in the final Battle of Monte Cassino before moving northwards along the Liri Valley and taking part in several sharp assaults on German defensive strong points in their advance to Ripi,
At the start of the month, with the other two battalions of 38 (Irish) Brigade, 2 LIR commenced joint training exercises with armoured support squadrons from 16/5 Lancers and practised river crossings over the Volturno river.
The Irish Brigade moved forward to a concentration area at Presenzano on the afternoon of 11th May just before the Allied Armies started their attack across the whole front of the Gustav Line later the same day….”
“The start of June 1944 found the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) at rest in the Ripi area, as they awaited orders to move forward again and it was here that they heard that Rome had been liberated on 4th June. Eventually, they started to move forward again on 8th June and, at one point, came to guard Kesselring’s former HQ in a cave complex at San Oreste. Whilst the battalion continued in their advance towards Civitella, a group of London Irishmen joined a wider Irish Brigade detachment, led by Brigadier Scott, which visited the Vatican to meet Pipe Pius. With the brigade’s Pipes and Drums in attendance, this was one of the more memorable episodes of their whole time in Italy..
Following a rapid advance towards Lake Trasimene, on 21st June and supported by a squadron of Canadian tanks, 2 LIR led an Irish Brigade attack on the heavily fortified hilltop village of San Fatucchio, which resulted in bitter fighting in the village and nearby church and cemetery at San Felice…”
“July 1944 was a month of transition for both London Irish Rifles’ battalions.
After being withdrawn from the battle area near to Lake Trasimene at the end of June, the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) travelled south to encamp east of Rome near Tivoli and this allowed an opportunity for all the men to explore the Eternal City. On 9th July, the whole division visited the Vatican, this time in more relaxed circumstances than the visit in June and were accompanied there by the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Irish Brigade. The next day, the battalion en-trained for a period of rest in Egypt.
On 17th July, as they waited to board their ship at Taranto, the men of the 2nd Battalion encountered their comrades from the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) for the first time in Italy and nearly two years since both battalions had left home…”
“August 1944 was a contrasting month for the two battalions.
While the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) was at rest in Egypt, moving from Qassassin to Sidi Bishr to the north east of Alexandria at the start of the month, the end of the month saw the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) starting its northward movement to join the 8th Army’s assault on the Gothic Line, which had commenced on the night of 25th/26th August 1944….”
“At the start of September 1944, the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) started its move back from Egypt to Italy, arriving at Taranto on 15th September before journeying northwards to the 78th Division’s Concentration Area at Fano where they arrived on the 27th. Here, it was expected that the Irish Brigade would soon be re-joining the 8th Army as it continued its assault on the Gothic Line, but these plans would be changed in October.
Meanwhile, the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) were ready to enter the fighting along with the other two battalions of 168 Brigade – 1 London Scottish and 1 Welch Regiment – on the road to Croce near a hill called Gemmano…”
“The start of October 1944 found the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) at rest in Fermo near Ancona and it remained in this area for the rest of the month while the future of 56th Division was being discussed at a higher level.
After moving northwards from Taranto in expectation of joining up again with the 8th Army, the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) was instead moved westwards, along with the rest of the Irish Brigade, to take up positions near Castel del Rio under the command of 5th Army, in order to support an advance towards Bologna…”
“November 1944 was a relatively quiet month for both battalions of the London Irish Rifles in Northern Italy but the conditions in the line became increasingly wintry, a portent of the weather that they would face over the coming months.
The 1st Battalion had anticipated a prolonged period at rest in advance of reorganisations both at battalion and brigade level but, on the morning of 11th November, they were called forward to take part in a diversionary crossing of the River Montone at Forli….”
“The 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) spent the first part of December 1944 with the rest of the Irish Brigade and still under 5th Army orders, in the area near Monte Grande taking part in patrolling and raiding party activity. After a short period of rest at Christmas, they were again back in the line at Casa Tamagnin as the year came to a close.
Meanwhile, after a major divisional reorganisation and, having joined 167th Brigade, the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) were called forward to the floodbanks of the River Senio..”
“The start of 1945 saw both battalions continuing in front line positions in Northern Italy – the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) with 167 Brigade on the floodbanks of the Senio river and the 2nd Battalion in the mountains near San Clemente.
Although both battalions were in static positions, they continued to take part in regular nightly patrols and occasional raids forward – at Casa Tamagnin on the 3rd by the Battle Patrol of 2 LIR and one the next night by 1 LIR who, along with the London Scottish and Royal Fusiliers, were in action near Cassanigo Vecchio…”
“The start of February 1945 saw the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) continuing at rest and the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR), under command of 11 Brigade, were in the mountains near to San Clemente but, within a short period, their respective roles were reversed.
On the 4th of the month, 2 LIR were eventually relieved from the front line and travelled southwards to join up with the rest of 38 (Irish) Brigade for a short rest just to the north of Florence. On the 11th, the Irish Brigade moved to the town of Forli where they would remain for the next four weeks and they soon started to undertake training exercises in expectation of the next offensive, which was expected in the drier spring time…”
“During March 1945, the two battalions of London Irishmen had mirror experiences with the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) spending the first part of the month on the Senio Floodbank with 167 Brigade and the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) taking over positions on the Senio, along with the rest of the Irish Brigade, for most of the second half. Both units were able to celebrate St Patrick’s Day out of the line, although 2 LIR’s convivial activities were deferred until 29th March.
Most of the periods on the banks of the Senio were spent in static defensive positions and was later described as having some similarity to trench warfare during the First World War, albeit on a much smaller scale. There was continually tunnelling activity and occasionally grenade duels and a notable successful raid on German positions was carried out on 22nd March by 17 Platoon, H Company, led by Lieutenant Salter….”
“April 1945 proved a momentous month for the two battalions of the London Irish Rifles in Northern Italy as they both took leading roles in the 8th Army’s assaults on German positions south of the River Po as part of Operation ‘Buckland’. The two battalions were to meet on the battlefield for the first time during the war on the afternoon on 14th April – the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) had left Britain in August 1942 and the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) in November 1942.
Before the main attack, which was planned to start on the evening of 9th April, along with other units of 56th Division and 2nd Commando Brigade, 1 LIR took a leading part in the crossing of the River Reno, close to its confluence with Lake Comacchio….”
On 2nd May 1945, there was full and final surrender of all German forces in Italy. Army Group South-West, under General von Vietinghoff, surrendered unconditionally to Field-Marshal Alexander.
From the Commander-in-Chief came this message to the troops:
“After nearly two years of hard and continuous fighting, which started in Sicily in the summer of 1943, you stand today as victors in the Italian Campaign. You have won a victory which has ended in the complete and utter rout of the German armed forces in the Mediterranean. Today the remnants of the once proud army have laid down their arms to you-close on one million men, with all their arms and equipment.
You may well be proud of this great victorious campaign, which will long live in history as one of the greatest and most successful ever waged…”