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Testimonianze

Grenadier Guardsman Norman Mitchell  

THE FIRST BATTLE OF MONTE CAMINO REMEMBERED

 

It is late October 2005 and Autumn is here. There has been some rain recently, the wind is making itself felt and in spite of the weathermen saying that the temperature readings are higher than normal, there is a distinct chill in the air. With the trip in September of a group of friends to Italy and the climb up Monte Camino fresh in mind, memories of another October 62 years ago come flooding back.  For convenience I shall write "we" or "6th Battalion" but this is by no means to diminish the tremendous efforts by the rest of the Forces involved,  46th  and  56th British Divisions,  7th  Armoured  Division and the American 26th(Rangers) Division as well as  2nd Scots and

Mr. Norman Mitchell

Born in 1920

3rd Coldstream Guards. It is late October 1943 and almost two months since 6th Bn, as part of 201 Guards Brigade under overall Command of the U.S. 5th Army, came ashore at Salerno. Two months of almost continuous fighting against a determined enemy battling fiercely to hold back the advancing Allied forces. 6th Bn is now in and around the village of Calabritto in sight of the south-eastern end of Monte Camino. After the difficult break-out from the Salerno bridgehead, through Battipaglia, and on through a ring of hills, notably the hard fighting on Monte Taborra, we were faced with crossing the River Volturno. Fortunately the planned crossing point was cancelled as it was to be an obvious deathtrap, and a determined and successful action by the Americans at another point meant that we were able to make a safe crossing by a pontoon bridge. Now, after further fighting we are being briefed about our next objective. The "hills" we have encountered so far seemed tough, but the first sight of Camino is, to say the least, daunting and we can see that this is no mere mountain but is a huge massif with several prominent points along the crest. Each of these has been allotted a number for briefing and tactical purposes and we have been told which objective point has been assigned to which Company. My (No. 4) Company is to attack Pt. 727.
We hear that the whole position is not thought to be heavily defended and some of us, such as "Pony" Moore, George Beaumont, Tom Grogan and I exchange glances with a muttered "Just like Mareth". Other thoughts are in our minds: “If it is more strongly defended, what will be done about supplies, evacuation of casualties, and by the very nature of fighting in the mountains we can't expect help (while fighting) from the Gunners but will have to rely almost entirely on our own weapons.
The SMLE is reliable and anyway can carry a bayonet, but I wish we had the more "handy" light M.l carbine used by the Yanks. The .45" calibre Thompson "Tommy Gun" is the King of weapons in the mountains and we should have more of them. Communications will also be difficult as the standard wireless sets will probably not be operative up there. The weather is deteriorating and getting cold, storm clouds are gathering already and I guess we shall also have rain to contend with. With little cover we shall be making the climb in the dark so the rain will definitely make it hazardous. What did my School Geography master tell us? -"The Italian climate has a hot dry Summer and a warm wet Winter"— well at least he was partly right!!
Over the past weeks we have lost so many fine Officers and friends throughout the Battalion, but we are an experienced fighting force and, anyway, its only another mountain and the enemy is possibly using it merely as an observation post to report troop movements going further north before falling back themselves!!So make sure that weapons are in perfect working order and everyone has a full complement of kit, especially spare socks. The 3rd Coldstream are to mount an initial attack on the lower slopes to give us a clear run at the crest, our own attack is timed for 4th November and may Good Luck go with us.

 

HOW ON EARTH COULD WE KNOW WHAT WAS TO COME?????

How did even half the Battalion come down to Mieli??
How did the porters survive, bent forward under 40 lb loads, up the narrow tracks with the
rain washing away the ground under their feet??
How did those gallant men, the stretcher bearers, do it?
And why is Military Intelligence so called?? (We think it is lightly held).
A long time ago maybe, but no-one who was there will ever forget the experience and I felt greatly honoured and proud that I was able to be up there again in September (2005) and to pay tribute to the many who didn't make it back.

"Mitch"

P.S.: And oh yes, the spare socks were not needed as we did not take our boots off for five days!!!
 

 


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