In May 1944, the 2nd Battalion (2 LIR) took part in the 4th 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. On the morning of 14th May, the brigade moved to a forward area behind Monte Trocchio before crossing the Gari river in the early afternoon using the newly completed Congo bridge. The Divisional Commander, General Keightley, had set four lines of progress for 78th Division, which was to attack on a two brigade front, and called them Grafton, Pytchley, Fernie and Bedale (named after English fox hunts). The ultimate objective was to make a complete breakthrough of the Gustav Line and then swing right to cross Highway Six, which was the German supply route for their forces on the Cassino massif.
In the early morning of 15th May and at very short notice, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (6 Innisks) were ordered to attack towards the Cassino to Pignatoro road (Grafton Line) and were able to reach their objectives by midday. 2 LIR were then called up to attack Colle Monache (Pytchley Line) immediately but whilst assembling for an ‘O’ Group, their Commanding Officer, Lieut Colonel Goff, was killed in a nebelwerfer strike, along with Lieut Colonel John Loveday, the CO of 16/5 Lancers. Major Horsfall took over command of the battalion, but due to the need to allow time for 2 Lancashire Fusiliers (of 11 Brigade) to move up on their right flank, the attack was postponed until the following morning.
The Irish Rifles began their attack on the heavily defended buildings near Casa Sinagoga at 9am on 16th May and, despite suffering significant levels of casualties, successfully reached Colle Monache just after midday. They spent the rest of the day staving off attacks from the Piopetto river on their left flank, before tank support was able to dampen down these German counter measures. In the evening, the Royal Irish Fusiliers (1 RIrF) moved up to prepare to take their part in the battle.
1 RIrF’s attack started at 0730 on 17th May and by early afternoon, they had reached Massa Cerro (Fernie Line) and were moving towards high points, which overlooked Route Six (Bedale Line). Whilst these attacks had been going in, there had been some doubt if units of 6 Armoured Divison had entered the strongly fortified village of Piumarola and it was hastily decided that 6 Innisks should lead an attack on the village with 2 LIR guarding their flank, and which they were able to clear within an hour. During the assault, the Commanding Officer of 6 Innisks, Lieut Colonel Bala Bredin (later CO of 2 LIR), was severely wounded but stayed to observe the successful advance forward.
By the evening of 17th May, all the defensive positions in the area had been completely overrun and, during the night, the remaining German paratroopers were ordered to retreat from the mountain areas. On the morning of 18th May, the Polish Corps were able to enter the now undefended abbey of Monte Cassino. Over the next few days, the Irish Brigade gained some much needed rest whilst 36 Brigade took up the advance towards Aquino. On 23rd May, the Canadians attacked the next heavily fortified defensive positions, which was the Hitler (Senger) Line, and after some bitter fighting were able to advance to cross the Liri river at Ceprano.
On 26th May, the brigade was called forward and had to take a cross country route to avoid German strongpoints near Arce before they eventually crossed the Liri on 28th May. On the next day, 1 RIrF moved north of Ceprano and entered Strangolagalli on the 30th. Meanwhile, E Coy of 2 LIR had led a night attack on Hill 255, which guarded the road onto Ripi, before the wider battalion attacked the village of San Giovanni a couple of miles further forward, and this was secured after a day of heavy fighting, and this now totally cleared the route to Ripi.
This period had now become one of transition with all German forces in the area hurriedly retreating towards new defensive positions north of Rome but the spearhead forces of the Irish Brigade continued to be confronted with hard fought encounters and rearguards often fighting to the last man. Whilst Allied forces were poised to enter Rome, 2 LIR and the whole Irish Brigade had other things on their mind – namely, to destroy all German Forces in the Italian theatre.
11th May: 2 LIR move to the Divisional concentration area at Presenzano. In the evening of the same day, the Allies start their attack on the Gustav Line.
14th May: 2 LIR cross the Gari River via Congo bridge.
15th May: The CO of 2 LIR, Lieut Col Ion Goff is killed, and replaced by Major John Horsfall MC.
16th May, am: 2 LIR successfully attack Colle Monache, near Sinagoga.
17th May: The Irish Brigade attack towards Route Six and 2 LIR support 6 Innisks in their assault on Piumarola.
29th/30th May: 2 LIR attack on Hill 255.
30th May: Assault on San Giovanni, south east of Ripi.
Roll of Honour: May 1944.