61ST ANTI-TANK Regiment IN SICILY Campaign
The following record is an extract of detail from the record of 61st (Highland) Anti-Tank Regiment RA in the Sicily Campaign
The Div convoy sailed from SFAX and it was not until after sailing that the destination was made known to all ranks - it was SICILY.
After a stormy passage which caused considerable dispersion and delays in the various convoys the Assault Brigade touched down on the PACHINO PENINSULAR at about 0300 hours.
The assault appeared to take the enemy by surprised with the result that the bridgehead was gained with very slight opposition. 241 Bty's Guns got ashore without much difficulty and were placed in action at the prearranged sites.
The L.S.T. Convoy appeared off the peninsular at about noon and although considerable air opposition had been expected, none was uncounted until dusk when there was a considerable amount of flare dropping and bombing of the beaches and invasion craft.
The remainder of the Regt disembarked that night and during the morning of the next day and concentrated in an area near the beach where we de-waterproofed before moving on further.
Bty's were immediately allotted to their affiliated Bdes as follows: 241 Bty already with 154 Bde; 242 to 153 Bde and 243 to 152 Bde - 193 remained with R.H.Q. as div Reserve.
Still meeting only slight opposition the div moved up the road NOTO - PALAZZOLA - BUSCEHI - BUCCHERI until, on 13 July considerable opposition was met by 231 (MALTA) brigade who were temporarily under command at VIZZINI the heights above which they managed to secure on this day but were pushed off by a counter- attack during the night. The flanking movement of 152 brigade round to the right via FRANCOFONTE was also held up by German parachutists. At this spot 243 Bty under comd of Capt.W.Lyon fired the first A Tk rounds of the campaign ata pill box with great effect and from this day the employment of A Tk guns in the Division underwent a great change - the policy being always to have some well up with the leading Inf for use as close support or assault guns. A.P. shot was found to be most effective against pill boxes or M.G. Posts in houses.
An attack with full arty support was put in on VIZZINI during the night by 154 Bde which was successful and 152 were also able to push on through FRANCOFONTE.
The div pushed on on a two brigade front. 152 Right and 153 left to SCORDIA & MILITELLO and by the end of the day our fwd troops held the rough line Road Junc N.E. of SCORDIA to PALAGONIA on the high ground overlooking the CATANIA Plain which stretched away to the North.
It was clear at this time that the enemy had withdrawn and was holding a line behind the numerous river beds in the plain.
Various small bridgeheads were made across the River GORNALUNGA notably the FANNY crossing on the right. Two Pheasants were deployed here by 'L' Troop (Lt.J.Bell) and to the next crossing to the left 'LOVATT'. Considerable alarm was caused by a report that FANNY had been retaken by the enemy and that a Pheasant had been captured. However it tuned out that it was only a raid and that the Pheasant had been able to withdraw after having had the enemy all around it.
243 Bty were put under comd 23 Armd Bde for a period and had a hand in making the LOVATT and ARGYLL crossings. 'J' Troop had some shooting against enemy in houses and successfully flushed several enemy from houses and enabled the machine ginners to knock them out.
During this period the infantry Bdes were pushing round to the left via PALAGONIA and RAMACCA.
154 Bde pushed on from RAMACCA to the east and made a bridgehead over the R.DITTAINO at LION CROSSING on the RAMACCA -CATANIA road while 153 Bde pushed North and made a bridgehead over the same river at SFERRO.
On 154's left flank however, there was a strongly defended area at GIRBINI aerodrome and it was decided that this must be cleared up before any further advance to the East could be made.
During 154's advance to the bridgehead a sharp engagement had taken place at this spot but our tps had withdrawn from it. 'C' Tp of 241 Bty had some good shooting at M.G. post in the houses and with particular success at one house which also, from the resultant explosion, was deduced to be an Amn Dump.
An attack by 154 Bde on GERBINI was decided upon for this night. The attack was to be done by 7th A & S.H. supported by 'B' Tp and 1/2 'A' Tp (Pheasants) of 241b Bty and a squadron of 40 R.T.R. All did not go too well and the situation on first light on 21st was most confused. Two guns of 'B' Tp were sent round to the right via the Aerodrome with orders to deploy in the area of the x rds firing North and N.E. Capt.W.H.Matthews went to recce posns for these guns and was not seen alive again. The two pheasants were deployed on the start line at the A Tk Ditch.
An enemy counter attack was successful and it was decided to withdraw to the line of the A Tk ditch. This was eventually done and the two 6 pdrs in GERBINI and the Pheasant of 'L' Troop which had been put in action North of the A Tk Ditch were over run by the enemy.
The two 6 pdrs of 'B' Troop which were sent to GERBINI were later found at the cross roads as had been ordered with many expended cartridge cases around them.
It was decided that GERBINI was too much of a thorn in the flesh to be so close to 154's left flank and accordingly 154 was withdrawn to hold the bridgehead only at LION crossing without pushing out far to the East.
A Battalion of Royal Marines came under comd at this time with the role of pushing out to the North West from 153 Bde Area and obtain a bridgehead called JAGUAR near MASS PARLATO supported by 'E' Tp of 242 Bty and 'H' Tp of 193 Bty. The crossing was made assisted by 'H' Tp who did some effective shooting against M.Gs but later the Marines withdrew under heavy mortar and shell fire without informing the A Tk Gunners - however the guns were recovered.
During all this time we had been suffering considerable casualties to guns and vehicles from both enemy action and the nature of the terrain. In order to keep up our strength of weapons, three German 75mm PAIC were incorporated in 193 Bty and 'H' Tp was rendered immobile to make other Btys up.
The right flank of the Div had now been taken over by 13 Brigade of 5 Div and the Div was now disposed on the high ground from SFERRO to MASSA PALATO overlooking the valley of the R.DITTAINO with the enemy holding the high ground on the other side.
153 Bde with 242 Bty under comd had been having a sticky time in the SFERRO Bridgehead but they were relived by 13 Bde on 30 July
It was decided to attack the enemy to the North of the Div in order to gain the use of the CATENANUOVA - SFERRO Road as a lateral and also obtain gun areas for the Div Arty in the DITTAINO Valley.
The objectives were:-
152 Bde Right -.224 (LOGGIO DISA) and the spur running East towards SFERRO
154 Bde Left - .193 West of .224
It was felt that with good arty support there would be little difficulty in gaining these objectives in the first instance but it was most important that the supporting Tanks and A Tk Guns should be in action on the objectives.
Accordingly it was decided not to tag them on behind Brigades transport (except 241 who could reasonably cover their objectives from their present posns) but bring them in from the right via SFERRO. This was done and although casualties to men and vehicles were caused in the assembly area at SFERRO when the enemy D.F. came down, all guns were in action by daylight as near to the prearranged spots as the infantry successes would allow.
Many guns did useful shoots after they came into action during the first light and assisted the infantry on to their final objectives.
At about noon it was reported that enemy tanks were assembling for a counter-attack which eventually came in at about 1400 hrs. The attack was beaten up by Div Arty concentrations and DF but four tanks reached .224 and were engaged by all Shermans and A Tk Guns that could bear. Three tanks were destroyed and many claims to the destroyers were heard. It is sufficient to say that our guns definitely hit two tanks and these did not move again.
With the failure of this counter-attack, the enemy realised that his posn South of the River SEMIETO was hopeless so he withdrew to the general line of the road PATERNO - BIANCAVILLE - ADERNO.
78 Div by getting ADERNO made this untenable so the enemy started to evacuate the island leaving only small rearguards behind. He was chased round the East of ETNA by 50 Div and 51(H) Div and by the U.S. 7th Army and 78 Div to the West. The country was very rough and would only allow of pack transport off the few and narrow roads so the Regt (less 242 Bty under comd 153 Bde) was concentrated in the area STE.MARIA DI LICORDIA to await events.
Lieutenant Colonel, RA
Commanding, 61st (H) Anti Tank Regiment R.A.
Lieutenant J. Craig
14 July. 'K' Tp fired 12rds 17 pr on town of FRANCOFONTE - Good results.
16 July. 'G' Tp captured enemy patrol of 1 German Officer, 6 German paratroopers and 6 Italians. 'D' Tp destroyed M.G.Post.
18 July. 'C' Tp destroyed M.G. Nests and Amn dump. 22 Germans killed, 2 x 3 ton trucks and 1 M/C destroyed. Sgt. W.Kirkwood awarded MM for part played in action.
19 July. 'I' Tp knock out Armd Car and clear Farm buildings of M.Gs. near Pt 91. 'H' Tp destroy M.G. Post of 2 Guns.
1 Aug. 'L' Tp 'brew up' a Mark IV Special - 'I' Tp destroy 4 houses on NE slopes of Pt.193 and clear them of M.Gs. 'C' Tp destroy one enemy tank. 'A' & 'C' Tp clear 3 M.G. Posts, destroy enemy O.P. and cause 2 x 20mm guns to be abandoned by enemy.