History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

MARKET-GARDEN Sep 44

(Arnhem)

BERLIN Nov 1944

(Nijmegen)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Bazentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

Flers-Courcelette

15-22 Sep 16

Thiepval

26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Cambrai, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

Monte la Difensa-Monte la Remetanea

Monte la Difense-Monte la Remetanea was a Battle Honour granted to the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, which was the administrative name of the Canadian component of the Canadian-American 1st Special Service Force.

The organization and history of the First Special Service Force is described in a separate article on this website. In brief, this unique Canadian-American force had been created in 1942 to undertake hazardous missions, and received training in parachute training, winter warfare, and amphibious operations. After deployment to the Aleutians, the Force was sent to the Italian theatre for use as alpine troops. The men of the Canadian component, administratively referred to as the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, was intermingled throughout the FSSF, many in command positions, and generally making up about 1/3 the total combat strength of the Force's combat strength. The Force was commanded by U.S. Army Colonel Robert T. Frederick, an American (promoted to Brigadier-General at the end of January 1944), with Lieutenant-Colonel D.D. Williamson, as senior Canadian and commander of the 2nd Regiment until replaced following Hill 720. Canadians in fact commanded five of the six battalions in the Force on disembarkation in Italy.

Battles of the FSSF

Monte CaminoMonte la Difensa-Monte la Remetanea
Hill 720Monte MajoRadicosaMonte Vischiataro –  Anzio – Rome – Advance to the Tiber – Monte Arrestino – Rocca Massima – Colle Ferro

Background

See also the article on Monte Camino

The FSSF had arrived in Italy on 19 November 1943 to find that General Mark Clark's U.S. 5th Army was readying an offensive on the mountains below Monte Cassino. The Germans had fortified the chain of heights northeast from Camino-Difensa halway across Italy as an additional barrier to Allied forces attempting to break through to Rome. While the main defensive line, the Gustav Line, was formidable, the additional fortifications at Camino-Difenso (the "Winter Line") were intended as an additional delay.

November marks the heaviest month for precipitation in Italy, and apart from adding to sheer misery for those out in the elements, the seasonal rains that had fallen since September had the effect of swelling rivers, washing out roads and bridges, and creating cascading logistical burdens, from the engineers who had to work constantly to keep the routes open, to the supporting arms who struggled to keep ammunition and supplies flowing over these routes.

By early November the enemy had been able to prepare the mountains for holding. Against this situation the three Allied corps in the Fifth Army were extended beyond convenient supply. The men were cold and tired at the end of a long offensive.

Before a rest was allowed General Clark decided one final thrust would be made to get into the Liri Valley. British 10 Corps on the coastal flank was to make an effort against Mount Camino. American VI Corps with the 3d Infantry Division carrying the ball would penetrate the Mignano Gap as far as Cassino. On this height the Germans hold one panzer grenadier division, with the Hermann Goering Division in reserve back toward Cassino fresh and ready for commitment. On the British side the 56th Division, tired and line-weary from continuous fighting since the southern landings, moved out to attack the Camino heights on November 5. Caviti and Sipicciano were taken by envelopments to place the 201st Guards Brigade and the 168th Infantry Brigade on the lower slopes. On the right of this effort the 3d Division sent one battalion of the 7th Infantry (Regiment) against Monte la Difensa. It was wet, hard, rocky work. Sufficient artillery had not yet been brought up to jar loose the dug-in enemy.1

When the British 56th Division took Calabritto, German counter-attacks came in on the Guards Brigade furiously for two days. The U.S. 3d Division tried to get at the main German positions guarding the Mignano Gap, named la Difensa (Hill 960)-Mt. Lungo-Cannavinelle. All three heights had to be secured in order to clear a path down Highway 7 into Cassino. The heights at Difensa were steep enough to require scaling, while the lowlands of the Gap were laced with mines and fortifications. Attacks on lesser heights at Cannavinelle and Rotondo were costly but managed to get the first penetrations into the Gap between November 5 and 9. Ten days of attacks, however, failed to turn up material success at la Difensa.

For one thing, a battalion had been sent to do a two-regiment job; complete commitment of the whole regiment was still not enough on this redoubtable 3000-yard front. Perpendicular cliffs just below the peak proved to be as frustrating a position as American troops had faced. This mountain was a veritable fortress. On top of the cliffs enemy snipers were using every trick to augment their commanding position with their advantage in height. Any small toehold gained by the 7th Infantry was dislodged with a hail of grenades and machine-gun fire. American artillery was pounding the top of the hill repeatedly and the enemy suffered losses. But the mountain was well cut with trails, and immediate shifts in reserves at all times provided the Germans with an adequate holding force.

Not only was the 7th in the precarious position of looking up the side of almost sheer cliff while unable to maneuver, but the approaches to the assault position were at the end of a seven-hour climb. Supplies were never adequate. Evacuation of casualties down the mountain required six hours. Throughout these bitter ten days, rain stopped only at brief intervals while at night the cold brought snow. Suffering from exposure was extreme.2

This was the general situation in which the First Special Service Force found itself.

The army's advance in November had been halted before Monte la Difensa, the left shoulder of the Mignano Gap, which led to Cassino. "A veritable fortress," Difensa (also known as Hill 960, from its height in metres) was a looming grey hulk criss-crossed by perilous trails leading to perpendicular cliffs at its snow-capped peak. The Force was ordered to take it and Monte la Remetenea, just beyond. "There was no doubt in anybody's mind about taking Difensa," recalls Colonel Gilday, whose battalion was in reserve for this action. "Everybody felt that if it was there, we could do it."3


Monte la Difensa, viewed from the north-east. Monte Camino is on the left.
U.S. Army photo

Operational Plan

Two corps were to attack the Camino hill mass overlooking the Mignano Gap; the British 10th Corps, to the left, was to attack Monte Camino and the U.S. 2nd Corps to seize adjoining heights on the northern half of the massif. Opposite them were troops of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division. The two highest features were to be taken by the 1st Special Service Force, Hill 960, and la Remetanea (also known as Hill 907).4

The task of planning the Force's first battle had fallen to Colonel Frederick (shown at right after promotion to Brigadier-General). The attack had been scheduled originally for 27 November, then delayed due to bad weather. Artillery support was delayed, and air superiority had not yet been won over southern Italy, making the possibility of Luftwaffe intervention a consideration - particularly when General Clark's overall plan for the attack called for aerial resupply. The first Canadian Forceman to be killed in action was among a group of five men wounded in a training accident; two of them had died. D-Day for the operation was rescheduled for 3 December, when both acceptable weather and sufficient artillery support were expected.5

 

The operation itself was divided into two phases. The difficulty of the climb required the ascent to be made over two days. The Force had to make do the seven-hour trip by climbing part-way up the mountain the first night, in darkness and absolute quiet, then hiding out during the day making a final ascent the next night.6

The approach march was made without incident, and a bivouac was established in a wood on the north-eastern slope of the mountain. The final ascent was to be made up a sheer cliff. The element of surprise was to favour heavily in the detailed assault plan drawn up by Lieutenant-Colonel Williamson, commanding the lead battalion, and there was a presumption that the Germans would not defend such a terrain feature thinking that no one would dare scale it. Heavy artillery fire masked the sound of the ascent.7

The Battle - Mount la Difensa

The final orders for the attack were issued on 29 November 1943. The 2nd Regiment of the SSF was to move into a concealed bivouac until dark on D-1, then advance up Ridge 368, seize Hill 960 (Difensa) by daybreak on D-Day. The 2nd Regiment was to carry the attack forward to capture Hill 907 (Remetanea), occupy Hill 960, and defend against attack from the south. The 2nd Regiment was also tasked to lend supporting fire to attacks by the 142nd Infantry Regiment on Monte Maggiore (Hills 510, 630 and 619). The orders noted: "The Second Regiment will continue to occupy and hold Mt la Difensa-Mt laRemetanea heights until relieved."8

After several delays, D-Day was finally set for 3 December. The 2nd Regiment boarded trucks on 1 December and arrived at San Felice at 19:00hrs by their time (double-daylight saving time, the standard for the U.S. Army in Italy, or 21:00hrs local time), well past dark. A ten-mile march followed, with assistance from a guide from the 142nd Infantry, and the regiment reached the bivouac just before dawn (05:00 by U.S. time, or 07:00 standard time). As Frederick met with the commander of the 142nd Infantry, Brigadier-General Wilbur of the 36th (Texas) Division and General Mark Clark (commanding the U.S. 5th Army) at the command post of the 142nd, he was ordered to move his 1st Regiment into the 36th Division's divisional reserve area south of Ridge 368; Frederick complied under protest, "convinced that he would need it for his own combat reserve."9 There was good news however, such as the taking of Hill 360 by the British 10th Corps the previous night, and the clearing weather permitting an increased tempo of air operations in support of ground operations. Deception operations around Cassino were being flown, with 500 tons of bombs falling mainly around Cassino to divert enemy attention and disrupt their supply line.10

Shortly after noon Second Regiment, resting secreted in the scrub pine cover along the 400-meter line halfway up Difensa, slowly stirred in the warm sun. There were occasional individual actions of men about to enter battle; honing fighting knives, retaping hand-grenades, checking ammunition, scattered bull sessions. About 4:00 o'clock word came around to eat the cold K rations and get ready to move out. Most of the officers had not slept, being busy with reconnaissances and supply details.11


Technician 4th Grade Garbedian, a Force radioman, photographed on Monte la Difensa. U.S. Army photo

The second phase of the assault on la Difensa began after darkness on D-1:

During the day, while the men waited, Colonel Frederick arrived and wished them well. For Joe (Glass) and many others, Frederick's presence "out front" on the dangerous slopes of this mountain proved an inspiration. Regimental commander Williamson also spoke, and urged the men to "follow" him.

In the late afternoon, as the daylight began to fade, Lieutenant Colonel MacWilliam gave the order to his battalion to move out...They would now begin the last leg of the journey, which would end with the assault itself. From the trees, they would climb the narrow path that wound its way to the cliffs on the north face of the summit where the Germans were entrenched. Once there, the men would silently scale this sixty-metre-high cliff facee and - assuming, indeed praying, that the Germans were all dug in on the opposite end of the plateau - sneak behind the enemy position and launch a surprise attack.

As the men exited the treeline, a deafening roar greeted them as II Corps guns far below Difensa initiated a devastating artillery barrage that was directed at the mountaintop and meant to cover the men's approach. The firepower was breathtaking, and Joe and the others could only stare up in awe as the mountain complex, including nearby Mount Maggiore, where the U.S. 142nd was going into action, came under fire from 820 artillery pieces, which would deliver 20,000 rounds over a single hour of firing, the heaviest Allied barrage since El Alamein.12

The weight of the barrage is mentioned in veteran's accounts:

The 1st Regiment had a grandstand view of the spectacle. Bill Pharris stated, "Of all the pictures of World War II, I have often wondered how come someone didn't take a picture of Monte la Difensa. When we went in, it looked like the whole mountain was on fire. I think that all the fire power that was there, was turned on the mountain."

This is one description that has been repeated over and over again by the survivors - "It looked like the whole mountain was on fire."13

The precise composition of artillery support at 16:30hrs on the front of the U.S. 5th Army was 925 guns, including 346 firing on the U.S. II Corps front. The 2nd Regiment had, in direct support, two batteries of the 1st Armored Division (27th and 68th Armored Field Batteries), and their Forward Observers actually accompanied the regiment up the mountain. The 4.2-inch mortars of the 2nd Chemical Warfare Battalion was also firing in direct support, albeit with low ammunition.14

Dusk had arrived early, as cloud cover returned before sun-down. While the sound of aircraft disappeared after dark, the tempo of artillery increased, and by 22:00hrs "there was a continuous window-shade rustle overhead, with a faraway whine that crept down from the mountain top." The 2nd Regiment reached the base of the Difensa crown at 22:30 as the supporting guns began shelling targets deeper inside enemy lines, while German return fire began to increase in intensity, working supply trails known to the enemy. Shells from German 10.5cm and 15cm guns fell on the 142d Regiment's trails, as well as SSF routes on the east of the massif, and 17cm guns engaged in counter-battery work against the heavy concentrations of Allied artillery. Disconcerting was a German armed with a machine pistol and tracer ammunition halfway up Difensa, towards the British sector, who was using his weapon to spot for their mortars, to apparent good effect.15

German artillery and mortar fire was not observed during the climb, however, which was led by the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Regiment, with Lieutenant-Colonel Tom MacWilliam in the lead. The 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Bob Moore, was in reserve with heavier loads of equipment, to permit the 1st to move more rapidly. The 4th Company of the 3rd Regiment accompanied the 2nd Battalion as stretcher bearers. Another barrage by the 1st Armored batteries and the 2nd Chemical Warfare Battalion mortars began at 02:00hrs and at 02:23hrs the regiment had reported that the final climb had begun.

Two of the regiment's best climbers went up the cliff first; these were Sergeant T.E. Fenton of Montreal and Sergeant H.C. Van Ausdale, the Arizona scout. Their task was to stealthily climb up to scout out an area over which the ropes could be secured. After the men following them got the ropes up, the continuous firing of artillery overhead would help to camouflage the noise of men and ammunition moving up. The barrage was timed to roll back at 03:00 to allow the lead companies to make their final approach. They would be assaulting the German positions, which were just below the summit, from the rear. The ground limited the spearhead to a single subunit: (Captain) C.W. Rothlin's 1st Company. Captain Stan Waters and 2nd Company would follow, and last Captain Daugherty's 3rd Company.16

The night was pitch black, and by midnight it was impossible to see the heights from the base of the cliff. It took two hours to move the three companies in succession up the ropes, after which there was a distance of 350 yards to cover to gain the peak, over a steep, rocky slope. At 03:00hrs the 1st Company formed into a skirmish line and advanced, meeting no enemy, other than observing a German with a machine pistol firing blind into the night down the mountain. Just under an hour later, the other two companies had reached the top of the ropes and were assembling for the final assault. The 1st Company reported back at 04:30hrs that they were nearing the crest. The battalion commander ordered them left, with the 2nd Company to advance up the middle and the 3rd Company on the right. It was at this point that they were discovered, and flares, mortar fire and machine-guns cut loose on the top of the mountain.17

Historians disagree on what led to the loss of surprise; Adleman and Walton write that the Germans piled loose stones around their positions for the express purpose of warning against enemy troops and suggests a "rockfall" warned of the approach of the SSF,18 while Burhans writes that "too many rocks rolled" as the companies maneuvered to get into position for the final surge on the crest.19 Joyce mentions that a German sentry was discovered inside the German positions and silently killed, and that while there are some claims that a dropped helmet alerted the Germans, and other claims that firing from below tipped them off, it was "(m)ore likely (that) the defenders first realized how close the enemy was when Rothlin opened fire."20 Nadler writes that "events unravelled so rapidly that none of the men were certain of the order," and mentions a falling helmet and, an "instant before or later", a confrontation between Sergeant Howard Van Ausdale and a German sentry that resulted in the German being shot. "What is certain," Nadler writes, "is that at roughly 5:30 a.m., just as dawn seeped into the sky, a heavy firefight erupted on the summit."21

The battle quickly devolved into a number of small, section-sized actions, and "18 sections in the 1st Battalion, fully oriented on the plan and objective, were involved with their own individual problems and plans and techniques of tightening and advancing the battalion crescent to the height of Hill 960." Dense cloud threatened visibility even once the sun came up at 07:00hrs. The light mortars of each company sought cover among the rocks and the light machine guns and riflemen began advancing towards the crest. Dawn came with the 1st Company only 100 metres from the peak, and advanced sections were "well engaged" with the main defences there, a complex of caves and bunkers. The massive barrage had done little to disrupt these fortifications, however, they were sited to cover easier approaches to the north and east. As the sun rose, the battalion's scouts were able to search for a flanking route (aided by fog) to assault the final positions on the crest, where six heavy machine guns were located to cover the northern approaches. The 2nd Company lost a number of men to these MGs, as well as small arms.22

During the final attack on the caves, contact was lost with the 2nd Company. The Germans were changing positions, using rocks for cover. Sergeant Van Ausdale led an improvised section in an assault on the first cave, taking out the first machine-gun with grenades and bayonets, and a second MG was dispatched in the same manner.

Ignoring mortar rounds falling all around them, Van Ausdale and his group had regained the initiative. When a platoon silenced the remaining machine guns, Rothlin's company was practically in possession of the summit.23

The fight had been a confusing one for the Germans, initially firing their weapons, pre-sited to shoot on fixed lines, down at the empty southern slope. Realizing their attackers were behind them, they were forced to shift positions rapidly. The commander of the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel MacWilliam, was on the summit of the mountain when the firefight had started, and "he directed the battle and at times even joined the fight as a rifleman."

At crucial moments, the limited space of the plateau worked in the Force's favour. Many of the Germans had been bunched in their fortifications of rock and timber, and in some cases, according to reports, the men simply aimed at concentrations of enemy and opened fire, to ghastly effect...An hour into the firefight, the FSSF had begun to push the Panzergrenadiers back. The Germans had been badly surprised, but they were masters of the counterattack, and could always be expected to retaliate. Some Germans were still making a stand on the southern half while others had retreated onto the ridgeline, where half of the contingent of the 129th had been positioned. Still others sought out positions behind particularly jagged boulders, and used these as vantage points from which to snipe at the Force men. But gradually, and then suddenly, the battle turned into a German rout.24

Lieutenant L.J. Piette took over the 1st Company when Captain Rothlin was killed along with Private Sid Gath by a burst of machine pistol fire. The final clearing of the heights was accomplished by the 2nd Company sweeping from the right, and Lieutenant Vernon Young had to report news of the success personally, as radio communication with regimental headquarters and the 2nd Battalion failed. At 04:40hrs, Colonel Williamson, commanding the regiment, radioed Frederick at Force headquarters to report Hill 960 taken.25

The victory was short lived for Colonel Williamson:

By 0700 hrs the 2nd Regiment was in control of La Difensa with the enemy retreating to nearby Mt Remetanea (Hill 907). As the company began moving out a mortar salvo crashed in killing Lt Col MacWilliam and a sergeant and wounding two others. The battalion XO took over 2nd Battalion as Col Frederick called a temporary halt to re-supply and re-ammunition the Force. This was a difficult and gruelling job involving six hours of man-packing and clambering up very steep slopes.26

Tom MacWilliam was a Canadian, originally from The New Brunswick Rangers. His death came at mid-morning just as his battalion was forming and moving off for Hill 907 (Mount Remetanea). Frederick, having moved to the top of the ridge after communications failed, cancelled the attack. At 08:35hrs, Frederick was informed that Camino had been taken by the British. The 142nd had also continued its attack on the northern slopes of Difensa, and the Germans continued to reinforce the 'saddle' between Camino and Difensa.

Low clouds were able to cover enemy movements, but after 11:00hrs, the 142nd was reported to be on Hill 596. General Wilbur, at the divisional headquarters of the 36th Division, was confused and nervous about the situation on Difensa, having heard reports of a battalion of SSF below Remetanea before dawn, but enemy fire was still being reported coming from that direction. He demanded confirmation that the SSF held Remetanea just before noon, and then two hours later, with no reply, had to again demand to know what Frederick's plans were, and suggested use of the SSF's reserves. Frederick's plans, however were not to move on Remetanea until the supplies had arrived, and they could not reach the summit until late afternoon. The 142nd Regiment had to wait until darkness to finish its assault on Maggiore, but impatiently set off five minutes before sunset, crossed the Vallevona Plateau, and gained the final heights after the sun went down at 14:35hrs. At 15:25hrs, General Wilbur again sent a message to Frederick enquiring what his plans were regarding Remetanea and advising that the 1st Regiment in divisional reserve was free because of the 142nd's success in securing its final objective of Maggiore. By this time, the supplies had been received by the SSF, but the heights to the left - the Camino monastery - had been lost to the Germans once again as the British were pushed back. The 2nd Regiment was ordered to attack Remetanea at first light on 4 December.

During the evening of 3 December, assessments of enemy strength figured that 75 Germans had been killed and 43 prisoners taken from the garrison on la Difensa, including a medic who volunteered to assist with care of Allied injured. Opposition had been two companies of the 3rd Battalion, Panzergrenadier Regiment 104, with two companies of a reconnaissance battalion. The remaining two companies of the 3rd Battalion were "apparently setting up positions between Difensa and Remetanea."27

The Battle - Mount la Remetanea

The Canadian Official History sums up what happened next succinctly:

For two days the 2nd Regiment held Hill 960, repelling a counter-attack by the 104th Panzer Grenadier Regiment early on the 4th. On 5 December Williamson's 1st Battalion pushed forward along the narrow ridge which led to Mount la Remetanea, 1000 yards to the north. The attackers came under mortar and machine-gun fire from Mount Camino, which was still in enemy hands, but gained the crest of their objective without meeting direct opposition. On the following day Mount Camino fell to the 56th (London) Division, and by 8 December the whole Camino hill mass had been cleared of the enemy. The Winter Line had been pried loose from its southern anchor. The First Special Service Force had fought its first action with distinction; it had incurred more than 400 casualties, of which Canadian losses numbered 27 killed (including Lt.-Col. MacWilliam) and 64 wounded.28

Aftermath


To complete the freeing of the Mignano Gap it was next necessary to capture Mount Sammucro--a huge mass of towering cliffs and ridges which from the north dominated Highway No. 6 and the village of San Pietro Infine, eight miles east of Cassino. The main 4000-foot peak (Hill 1205) fell to the U.S. 36th Division on 7 December, and after two bitter battles (in which Italian troops - the 1st Italian Motorized Group - entered the campaign on the Allied side) the Division occupied San Pietro on 17 December.
29

 

Battle Honours

 

The following Canadian unit was awarded the Battle Honour "Monte la Difensa-Monte Remetanea" for participation in these actions:

  • 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion (First Special Service Force)

Notes

  1. Burhans, Robert D. The First Special Service Force: A War History of The North Americans 1942-1944 (Methuen Publications, Toronto, ON, 1981) ISBN 0-458-95020-1 p.91

  2. Ibid,, p.95

  3. Dancocks, Daniel G. D-Day Dodgers: The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945 (McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, ON, 1991) ISBN 0771025440 pp.196-197

  4. Nicholson, Gerald The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945 (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1957), pp.453-454

  5. Joyce, Kenneth H. Snow Plough and the Jupiter Deception: The story of the 1st Special Service Force and the 1st Canadian Special Service Battalion, 1942-1945 (Vanwell Publishing Ltd., St. Catharines, ON, 2006) ISBN 1-55125-094-2 pp.152-153

  6. Dancocks, Ibid, p.197

  7. Joyce, Ibid, pp.153-155

  8. Ibid, p.153

  9. Ibid, p.153

  10. Burhans, Ibid, pp.99-102

  11. Ibid, p.102

  12. Nadler, John A Perfect Hell: The Forgotten Story of the Canadian Commandos of the Second World War (Anchor Canada, 2005) ISBN 978-385-66141-6 pp.107-108

  13. Adleman, Robert H. and George Walton The Devil's Brigade (Bantam Books Ltd., Toronto, ON, 1967), p.115

  14. Joyce, Ibid, p.154

  15. Burhans, Ibid, p.103

  16. Joyce, Ibid, pp.154-155 Joyce lists Rothlin's rank as "Lieutenant", though other histories refer to him as a captain.

  17. Burhans, Ibid, p.104

  18. Adleman, Ibid, pp.118

  19. Burhans, Ibid, p.104

  20. Joyce, Ibid, p.155

  21. Nadler, p.113

  22. Burhans, Ibid, pp.105-106

  23. Joyce, Ibid, p.156

  24. Nadler, Ibid, pp.116-117

  25. Joyce, Ibid, pp.156-157

  26. McKay, A. Donald Gaudeamus Igitur "Therefore Rejoice" (Bunker to Bunker Books, Calgary, AB, 2005) ISBN 1894255534 p.253 An often retold story is that just 36 hours before being killed, while waiting for the final climb up Difensa to begin, Williamson had engaged in a discussion about the sequence of various medals and joked he would prefer a long service medal to any others.

  27. Joyce, Ibid, pp.158-159

  28. Nicholson, Ibid, p.454

  29. Ibid


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