The battalion returned to the Spaduro area, doing tours of twelve days in and six days out of the line. The rains set in with an intensity that threatened to wash both friend and foe from the slippery, crumbling sides of the mountains into the swollen torrents below. Further operations were off until an improvement in the weather. During October eight inches of rain fell, and in November there were a further nine inches.
The administrative side of the battalion worked as it never had before. When the weather was bad, either mud or snow, it took six hours to get from the forward areas to B Echelon, about fifteen miles away at Firenzuola. Supplies were conveyed on mules, and some idea of the mud can be gauged from the fact that along one mule track could be seen the heads of many dead mules standing up in the mud where they had stuck, sunk, and been shot.
In mid-November the battalion moved north of the Sillaro River to hold sectors on the southern slopes of Monte Grande, part of the very last ridge overlooking the Po Plains. Their adversaries were the 1st Parachute Division, one of the best left in the German Army, and whom they had met before in Sicily and at Cassino.
No major incident disturbed the normal routine of shells, mortar bombs, and patrols. The battle patrol of F Company men, under Lieutenant Montgomerie, carried out a – highly successful raid in daylight on a farm occupied by a platoon of the enemy. Four Germans were killed and the rest put to flight. Reconnaissance and planning for this raid took almost a week, but it was accomplished without a casualty, and Lieutenant Montgomerie received a Bar to his MC. On another occasion Lance-Corporal Faizey distinguished himself by capturing a patrol of four Germans who tried to pass themselves off as Canadians.
The team of officers which led the 2nd Battalion through that undistinguished but hard winter were Lieut-Colonel Bredin DSO MC, Major G Fitzgerald (E Company), Major Ted Griffith (G Company), assisted by Lieutenant Gartside. Major Craig and later Major JD Lofting led H Company, the mortar platoon was under Lieutenant Ken Daly, and the medium machine-guns were under the command of Lieutenant Neale. Major GG Hall commanded the Support Company, Captain RG Cockburn Headquarters Company, Captain GE Cole was Adjutant, and Lieutenant D Aitkenhead was still the very able and energetic Quartermaster. The transport section was led by Captain Ivan Yates; Lieutenant John Barker was in charge of the pioneers, and Lieutenant Ken Levatt was Signals Officer. Lieutenant F Lyness, the Intelligence Officer, took up a post as an instructor at the Central Mediterranean Training Centre, Benevento.
Lieut-Colonel Bredin left the battalion temporarily to act as GSO1 at 78th Divisional Headquarters, and Lieut-Colonel JD Stewart, formerly Second-in-Command of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, took over. Lieut-Colonel Bredin returned six weeks later, and Lieut-Colonel Stewart became Second-in-Command. Major Mervyn Davies came back from hospital to command E Company, with Captain F Cave as his Second-in-Command.
The 1st Battalion rested in Fermo while the Allied advance progressed. By November 1944, Forli had been reached and it was not anticipated that the 56th (London) Division would be needed in the line for some time.
Suddenly, however, plans were changed and the London Irish were ordered forward to make an extended bridgehead across the River Montone at Forli and so to create a diversion while the main attack went in elsewhere. To this end all preparations were made outwardly for a move by the whole division, but the only troops involved were the London Irish and skeleton forces from the three brigade headquarters. All the divisional signals wireless sets were kept in operation and the route forward bore the division’s signposts.
Owing to casualties, A Company of the London Irish had been temporarily disbanded. B Company was commanded by Major A Blake, C Company by Captain RM Haigh MC, and D Company by Captain AD Hunter. The latter was injured in a jeep accident and command of the company reverted to Lieutenant D. Hutchison.
After an all-night journey the battalion reached Forli and took up posts in the vicinity of the town and on the right bank of the River Montone, a deep and swiftly flowing stream about thirty yards wide. The enemy had blown the bridge and withdrawn, but it was not known how far back they had gone.
Preliminary patrols were made and the pioneers, under Sergeant Parsons, dealt with a number of felled trees in which were hidden explosives and also with a number of glass mines which the battalion encountered for the first time.
B Company was ferried across the river and advanced about half a mile while C Company took up positions on their left. A patrol of about twelve men went out from B Company under Lieutenant WEW Martin. Their main job was to find the enemy, but they failed to return. It was ascertained later that the party were trapped in heavy mortar-fire. Lieutenant Martin was killed and his companions, many of whom were wounded, were captured.
B and C Companies went forward another half a mile the next day and Tactical Headquarters crossed the river, followed by D Company. Further progress was made and after several men in D Company were caught in heavy shell- and mortar-fire, B Company was ordered into action against a suspected German strongpoint. Gun- and mortar-fire was laid on in support, but when the London Irish attacked they were met with machine-gun and mortar-fire. Several men fell as Lieutenant E Little’s platoon gained their objective on the left flank. There was a spirited battle in which Lieutenant Little was wounded. Unfortunately the whole platoon were overwhelmed shortly afterwards by a powerful enemy counter-attack.
The right-hand platoon, under Sergeant Hill MM, fought very well and succeeded in occupying and holding German positions on that flank. Ten prisoners were taken. Dusk and a heavy ground mist hindered observation, but Major Blake sent his third platoon into the fray to support Sergeant Hill’s left flank.
The positions were secured and then German orders, strangely enough in “clear,” were intercepted. They indicated that another strong counter-attack was being prepared. Defence fire was called for from the medium and field artillery and the threatened attack collapsed. The Germans were caught before they had really started.
The London Irish were then relieved in the line and went back to Ferno. The “Forli Affair” had lasted only a few days, but the fighting was bitter and the battalion losses in officers and other ranks totalled about fifty.