THE centre of gravity in the fighting seemed to pass to the Eighth Army front by October 1944. With a little more strength the Allied Armies might have accomplished more in the attack towards the River Po before the autumn and winter rains set in, but it was revealed by General Alexander afterwards that some American and French Divisions had been withdrawn from Italy for the attack on the south of France and this had weakened his forces. To drive the Germans from the Po Valley during the winter could hardly be expected.
Nevertheless there was work to be done, and when the Irish Brigade returned to Italy they went to Monte Capello, an important height in the mountains between Florence and Bologna and looking down the Po Valley. The weather was most depressing, and for the first part of their stay the battalion had an uneventful time. A turkey farm was started at B Echelon, with an eye to the approach of Christmas. The turkeys were supplied by companies that had found birds willing to give themselves up in order to get fat on Army fare! When the battalion left Monte Capello the farm consisted of twenty turkeys and six fat geese. The London Irish moved to Apollinare on October 19 in readiness for the attacks by the division on Monte la Pieve and Monte Spaduro. Pieve had already fallen and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had preceded the London Irish, were on the edge of Spaduro. After a gallant but costly attempt the Faughs had been forced back by heavy counter-attacks, and the London Irish were ordered to have a go.
The Pieve and Gesso Ridges were joined to the lower Spaduro feature by a narrow neck of knobs which fell sharply away on both sides to deep gullies. These knobs were numbered Point 401, Point 416, Spinello Farm, and Point 387. Then came a semicircular chain of knife-edged bumps leading to the main height of Spaduro.
The attack was planned for midnight on October 21-22, with the semi-circular chain and Point 287 as the objectives. F, G, and H Companies went forward with gun support, but unexpectedly heavy fire from Spinello on the right forced them to take cover in a wadi. Their position was seen by the enemy and they were compelled to remain behind the reverse slope all day within a curtain of protective fire from our guns and mortars. A further attack was made in the afternoon with the help of E Company, who marched round to take the enemy from the left flank while F Company tackled Spinello. The effort nearly succeeded. H Company fought hand-to-hand up the slopes north of Point 387, but lost heavily in a counter-attack. All the officers except the Company Commander, Major W Craig, were killed, and the platoons had to give up the ground gained. The cross-fire from Spinello still caused trouble, and the strongly entrenched Germans there resisted all the efforts of F Company though one officer and a sergeant reached the walls of the farm before being killed. The decision was then made to withdraw H and F Companies to cover behind Point 416. With G Company giving covering fire this was done without more casualties.
It was clear that nothing could be done about Spaduro from that side until Spinello fell. The battalion had now been in the line nineteen days with a break of only one night, and had done two major attacks. For thirty-six hours they had lived on haversack rations. Two of the companies had lost heavily, but Support Company and battalion headquarters had been lucky. Next morning a patrol, consisting of Lieutenant D Fay, MC, Sergeant Farthing, and two riflemen, went out to ascertain the strength and positions of the enemy in Spinello. By a most daring feat of arms they captured a German on the outskirts of the farm, and obtained valuable information. Immediately a plan was made for E Company to capture the farm area, which they accomplished with fire support. Later, as F Company went up to help hold off a counterattack, they passed into a minefield and two officers, Major RW Boyd MC and Lieutenant J Bruckmann, and two other ranks were killed. CSM Kelly DCM took over the company and the farm area was held. That same night other battalions attacked Spaduro from the left flank and the height was finally captured. The London Irish took well-deserved credit for a part of this success because they had distracted the enemy’s attention and drawn most of their fire. The Divisional Commander and the Brigadier emphasised this point in complimenting the battalion later on its work. The London Irish losses were five officers killed (Major RW Boyd, Lieutenant S Thompson, Lieutenant V Bryning, Lieutenant J Bruckmann, and Lieutenant C Cramb). The last two were South African officers seconded to the battalion. One officer, Major Davies, was wounded just as the attack on Spinello was assured. Fourteen other ranks were killed and fifty wounded. Sergeant Farthing unhappily died of wounds.
The morning after the successful operations, G Company took over Point 387 from a company of the Inniskillings and found Sergeant Sye, who had been lying wounded for more than thirty-six hours. He had refused the aid of stretcher-bearers, but finally had been unable to make his own way back. He died of his wounds the next day.
The London Irish went back to Apollinare to rest. The fighting on Spaduro had been as bitter as anything in which the battalion had taken part. The enemy had obviously been told that they had to hold Spider, and did their utmost to obey orders. One of the outstanding features of the battle was the fine support given by the three-inch mortars and the Vickers machine-guns. On one day, October 23, the mortar platoon fired one thousand four hundred mortar bombs.
On coming out of the line the battalion had to reduce to three companies and bade temporary farewell to F Company, which had lost all its officers and was low in strength. A cadre of seven and a battle patrol of ex-F Company personnel under Lieutenant Montgomorie MC served to maintain the F Company tradition.